ALTAR’s Familiar Yet Fresh & Character Driven

Altar. 2016. Directed & Written by Matthew Sconce.
Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Deep Rai, Jessica Strand, Michael Wainwright, Tim Parrish, Tina Johnson, Jesse Parr, & Master Dave Johnson.
Movie Heroes Studios/Schumacher III/Stellar Lense Productions
84 minutes. Not Rated.
Horror

★★★1/2
IMG_0271I’ll always defend found footage because, when done right, the results can be shockingly impressive, and really scary. There’s a lot of misfires. It’s a relatively new subgenre, in terms of popularity, considering movies like Cannibal Holocaust and 84C MoPic have been around since the ’80s, even before The Blair Witch Project turned bigger audiences onto the idea. Because the subgenre became a hot property for studios, and an easy way to make movies for amateur filmmakers or even anybody nowadays with an iPhone, we’ve been inundated with a ton of found footage titles.
Altar starts out with a typical sort of setup, with a bunch of old college classmates who wind up lost on their way to a reunion in the Sierra Nevada. From there, we see a few similarities to popular entries in the genre, particularly The Blair Witch Project. Director-writer Matthew Sconce ultimately treads his own path by using expected conventions and a few of his own tricks along the way.
This film doesn’t flip the subgenre on its head, nor does it show us anything wildly different from what we’ve seen before. It does offer a creepy, unexpected slice of horror that feels like genre comfort food – the same ole good stuff you’d hope to get, plus a twist of originality in the execution.
IMG_0274Altar succeeds investing the audience in the characters. These people feel real, like they’re actually a group of friends who’ve known one another a long time, we revisit their nostalgia alongside them on this reunion trip. There’s a lot of good organic little scenes where the characters all build up through dialogue that’s not just jammed with exposition. Even a decent explanation aside from ‘I wanna record our reunion’ that plays well into the relationships between certain characters. While not every aspect of the writing impresses me, Sconce makes it all feel natural. Lending to that are the believable performances of the lead actors.
A nice addition in the cast of characters is that one of them has Asperger’s – the guy holding the camera. Not a POV we often see, so the inclusion is great, and the fact it all comes to bear on the character himself, what happens to him (et cetera) is really great.
When you’re engaged and you care about the people in a found footage film it’s easier putting yourself in their shoes. The woods are more often than not in this subgenre used as just a default place to send actors where they can run and scream into the darkness. Whereas Altar instead puts more work into the story, adding an ultra creepy bit of ancient mystery in the forest. There’s a familiarity around many a corner throughout the film, though Sconce combats that with some ingenuity. If anything, you’ll at least find a nagging curiosity on the brain concerning the titular altar.
IMG_0276The creeps are subtle and spaced out. It isn’t until the final 20 minutes when things unleash, when the tension boils over and there’s nothing but a spiral towards madness. Sconce avoids the usual ‘Turn off the camera’ moments, the constant infighting, sudden ruined friendships over fear. He opts to go for more of a group terror, one that lingers like static every moment we follow the group of friends. It’s not as if anything unexpected happens. What works is the tense, unsettling suspense of the last 20 minutes.
One thing I loved? A character actually brings a gun with her. You always wonder why people going into the mountains or the backwoods. Well, this time someone did! Whether that helps in the end, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Throughout Altar are a few eerie images. Such as the altar in the woods itself, which is so strange from the first time we see it onscreen. The axe guy in the beginning is almost chuckle-worthy at times, yet he’ll stay with you, getting under your skin in a brief amount of time. I did laugh at him, only to see the characters sitting by a campfire later and asking myself if they were to be slaughtered. Trust me, the answers aren’t as easy as that, they’re much more gruesome fun.
When the true evil of the story comes round, the first appearance is fuzzy, out of focus. You can pick out a shape, enough to feel frightened. Later, the evil becomes more defined, as it takes the characters on a hell of a ride.
IMG_0278I personally feel Altar‘s more worth your time than many efforts out there. Better than most of the sequels to Paranormal Activity. There’s a solid ending, too. Not one that begs for another film with a weak finish. Rather, we’re treated to – in this day and age of cinematic universes galore – a closed-ended story. There’s a mythology that of course isn’t totally laid out through expository writing for us, part of why I dig the storytelling. No sequel setup, no mush mouth explanations of worthless dialogue trying to create a huge backstory for the movie’s big evil.
Herein lies the greatest strength of the movie: it gives just enough without giving us more than necessary. I’m impressed, Mr. Sconce. Hope we see more soon. Horror won’t ever pass up guys like him, working with familiar territory and giving us his own take.

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Twin Peaks – Season 3: “The Return, Part 8”

Showtime’s Twin Peaks
Season 3: “The Return, Part 8”
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Lynch & Mark Frost

* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 9, click here.
Pic 1ABad Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) and Ray Monroe (George Griffith) are following a tracking device out into the woods on a desolate road. They have a little chit cat, the latter apologises for taking off on his buddy. Seems like ole Ray is trying to squeeze a bit of cash out of the doppelganger, a bit of important information he knows is worth a few bucks. So he thinks. Along the dark road they stop so Ray can piss. He pulls a trick on the bad Coop and pumps a couple shots in him.
Lying in the dirt, the doppelganger bleeds out. But suddenly, strange figures in black run from the trees. Freaky Lynchian shit. They almost look like lumberjacks, their faces smudged in dirt. They crowd around the Bad coop, almost as if they’re dancing a ritual and prodding at him. Backwoods magicians. Of course Ray takes off under the impression his target is dead.
But this is an important piece of the whole puzzle. Because bad Coop is actually a doppelganger, a version of Coop inhabited by Bob; that evil entity. So, what happens when one of them actually dies? What happens to that spirit? It has to go somewhere, or something has to happen TO it. And we won’t get all the answers, not immediately. That’s the allure of Lynch and Frost’s writing.
Pic 2Pic 2ANine Inch Nails plays for us in this episode, which is sexy as fuck. Two of my great loves coming together at once. Great goddamn performance, too. It’s so wonderfully filmed and for me it fits like a glove.
From there, we cut to bad Coop popping up, awake and bloody.
Then we jump all the way back to July 16th in 1945 – White Sands, NM. It’s early morning and we hear a countdown. A mushroom cloud erupts in the desert, growing bigger, spreading out over the sand and tearing away everything near. The closer we get, the more it resembles the Man from Another Place’s latest form, the brain-ish head on a tree. We’re taken inside the cloud, a hell-like space. Lynch’s way of showing us the cataclysmic repercussions of dropping these types of bombs, in a way only he can.
Through a bunch of awe inspiring imagery, we’re brought to the convenience store. Remember? The ones who meet above the convenience store.
So, come with me on this journey: we see the dropping of an atom bomb, epitome of pure evil; pure evil personified are demons or evil spirits; evil spirits such as the ones like Bob, the Jumping Man, and those others. Remember Phillip Jeffries told Gordon Cole (Lynch), Albert (Miguel Ferrer), and Coop about the meetings? Well, in a chain of surreal events, we go from the personification of not only evil but MAN’s evil to the place where those evil spirits come to dwell on Earth. At least those in the vicinity of Twin Peaks and the surrounding area. Like a sort of modern birth of a pantheon of demons, when man’s scientific hubris went so far as to create such deadly power, for nothing but the SAKE of power. And man’s evil is not just in massive shows such as this, it’s everyday evil, like that of Bob and the crimes he committed using Leland Palmer (Ray Wise) in that little town. Hence why we’re also led to the convenience store in that wild sequence.
Pic 2BWe’re taken further, as well. Lynch brings us into a suspended atmosphere where we come to a huge structure, almost an obelisk in the darkness. Inside is similar to an old apartment building from the early 1900s. There’s a woman looking upset. The Giant (Carel Struycken) is there, a concerned look on his face. And there’s a large transformer of some sort, it keeps making noise and lighting up, over and over, until the Giant turns it off. There’s a similarity between this place and the place where Coop wound up going through on his way back from the Black Lodge. So, is this like a type of Limbo, a Purgatory? If so, is the electrical transformer a vessel, or does it transmit messages?
The Giant walks up a staircase into another room where there’s a screen. He sees the atomic blast in the desert projected. He sees the convenience store, the cosmic being floating and regurgitating some strange fluid. The Giant then levitates away. The woman walks in to find him gone, an image of the stars on the projection screen. She sees the Giant there, from his eyes burst a galaxy of stars and they fill the sky. There’s a god-like quality to him now. He’s like the antithesis to the dropping of the bomb, just as the explosion produced a burst of evil spirits, so does the Giant’s power spring forth a symbol of goodness: Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Her spirit is fed into a massive machine, then it coils down into the universe, into the world. She’s a symbol of good and a resistance to evil, as she becomes one of those who grapples with the evil entity Bob; she obviously doesn’t get away in the end, but she’s like the archetype of good, and specifically good targeted for corruption.
Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.52.14 AMJump ahead to ’56. In the desert. An egg hatches, a creature slithers out and crawls through the sand. later, we see it closer as a half frog, half fly-type of thing. Like two pieces of a Biblical plague mixed together.
On a dark road a man stumbles in front of a car. He asks for “a light” as electricity crackles in the black of night; he looks like one of the Lumberjacks from Fire Walk With Me and Missing Pieces. Also like one of those spirits that helped bring back the bad Coop after he was shot. Another of the men stalks outside the car, but the people take off before anything else happens. Lucky them.
So, we’re seeing more of the evil spirits, of these Lumberjacks; and this is in ’56. They’re connected to bad Coop in the present day, reviving him, which means they’re definitely part of the Black Lodge and those convenience store meetings.
Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.59.01 AMA young couple walks home alone together at night. The boy kisses the girl and heads off. The Lumberjack is still looking for his light, too. He walks into a radio station, finds one woman and puts a hand to her head, crushing it, or melting it. But either way: BLOOD! He does the same to the DJ. Everywhere in town the radio goes mad. Until the Lumberjack decides to use the airwaves to send a message: “This is the water. And this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.” Through the electricity of the radios and the airwaves, the Lumberjack’s words infect people all over town.
That creature from before, it flies through the window of the young girl from before. It crawls into her bed, then into her mouth as the words of the evil entity keep pouring from the radio. She swallows the evil whole. After the Lumberjack finishes he walks off into the pitch black, as a horse can be heard. A horse of the apocalypse, perhaps?
Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.10.28 AMWhat a fascinating chapter. This was so spooky, unnerving, surreal. One of the greatest television episodes, of anything, ever. Definitely at the top of the surrealist pile for Twin Peaks. And strange as it was, it’s putting together parts of its mythology. One episode at a time. And what will become of the poor girl who swallowed that frog-fly-thing? Yuck.

There Are No Answers for Evil in HOME MOVIE

Home Movie. 2008. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Amber Joy Williams, Austin Williams, Lucian Maisel, & River O’Neal.
Modernciné.
Rated R. 80 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThe theme of evil is a prevalent one in the horror genre. Whether through a lens of science or organised religion, there are many films that tackle the nature of evil; from where it originates, what makes a person evil and drives them to do evil to others. It’s hard to ever know, but horror movies do their best to give us all the scenarios for our sick enjoyment.
Christopher Denham gives us Home Movie – a suspenseful, eerie addition to the found footage sub-genre. Using the story of two parents – David and Clare Poe (Adrian Pasdar & Cady McClain) – who are having trouble with their young, strange children, Denham explores the idea of evil. The main plot has to do with the mother (works in psychology) and the father (a pastor) having opposite worldviews, so they’ve come to different conclusions on what is making their children act like two budding serial killers.
What makes it all so effective is attention to sticking with the found footage format, generally keeping close to making it feel like this footage was actually FOUND instead of edited together. Furthermore, Pasdar and McClain are a natural couple with positive chemistry for the roles, alongside Amber Joy Williams & Austin Williams as Jack and Emily who act beyond their years with an ability to creep you out that needs to be seen to be believed.
Trust me. If ever creepy kids were creepy as hell, Home Movie is the flick.
pic2Opening the film with dead animals being wrapped in plastic bags, put in a kid’s wagon, then quickly cutting to David flicking through the camera starting to film some nice family moments is a masterful juxtaposition. This sets the film’s tone fast. A disgusting moment juxtaposed against the innocuous, typical dad-like activity is like a thesis: we are about to witness a (semi)normal family descend into macabre madness.
There’s a lot of dragon imagery throughout the story. We see the dragon puppet the kids have, and then dad tells his children a story called “The Dragon and The Paper Bag” that concerns a dragon who disguises himself to fit in amongst boys and girls only to eat them up in a dastardly plan. Notice it’s a two-headed dragon. So, quite swiftly Denham sets up a symbolic parallel between the two-headed beast and the two Poe kids. Just as the dragon walked and talked like a child but was only pretending, we eventually come to see how the Poe kids also pretend to be children while they’re so much more in the most sinister of ways.
Our first big indication of a serious problem, as well as the kids’ affront to their parents respective fields (a conscious effort on their part), is the crucified cat. On Christmas Day, no less. They don’t just kill a cat, they don’t simply nail him to a piece of wood: they crucify him. This is their initial dig at God. Worse still, it’s likely the kids who set into motion the mistaken assumption on their mother’s part that David is abusing them. He gets drunk on New Years and ends up laying in bed with his kids; they wake up with bites all over them, deep and hard. Earlier in the movie we hear Clare tell David to stop biting her. And so the kids – who are known to be watching the tapes – bite each other. They manipulate Clare into thinking that her field of science is the one able to provide an explanation: David, as it turns out, was abused as a boy, and so statistics show many abused kids grow up to abuse their own offspring. More and more, little Jack and Emily set their parents against one another, all in the name of completing their evil without being bothered too much.
pic3So many message boards for this movie have thrived on the idea that there’s actually a chance the kids were possessed. Not true, at all. Not in any way. The children aren’t possessed, nor can psychology and all the science of the world properly diagnose and explain their evil behaviour. Just like the most famous serial killers in history, these kids are psychopaths. They’ve gone from nailing down worms to beheading dogs, crucifying cats, to first harming another child to likely murdering their own parents. The whole point of the film is that evil has NO explanation. There’s no one solitary answer. Even the FBI with their checklist of factors which lead to someone becoming a serial killer readily admit there’s no right combination; each person, and consequently their personal brand of evil, is different.
What’s positively evident at all times is the creepiness. Pasdar’s charm as the family patriarch lulls us into a complacent feeling, like these are real people, as does the relationship between him and McClain. Set against the parents, Jack and Emily are terrifying, two near emotionless children, manipulative and worrisome at every turn. The family dynamic overall is so natural that once the horror gets going full force you’re swept away by each following event. Calling back to the dragon, the kids don paper bags when committing ghastly acts, such as preparing a friend from school to eat – they don’t get to do it, but close enough. Later when they have their parents tied up, they once more put on their paper bags. Again, their likeness to the dragon is brought to the front. We see the kids for who they are: monsters. They even wear Japanese-style masks, reminiscent of dragons, as they lay siege to their parents before the climactic moments. Love the imagery that repeats, getting stronger with each appearance, until the horror is unbearable.
pic3-1This is a great found footage horror. Near the end, the kids start setting up for “The Jack and Emily Show” and it’s as if Kevin McCallister and his younger sister teamed up as killers to make his wish of never seeing his family again come true; the found footage edition of Home Alone. Most of the sub-genre is adhered to, although a couple times a bit of choice editing works its way. I can forgive some of that because Denham really makes the whole thing look like we’re seeing home movies, some messed up and static-filled, bits merging together having been taped over time and time again.
Above anything else, Home Movie unnervingly looks into the nature of evil, positing that between science and religion there are no full explanations. Try though people might we will never find an exact definition or idea of evil. When it comes to the subject of killer children, or those kids who may go on to be serial killers at a later age, there’s often no way to clue everything up in a nice package for people to say “Oh this is evil” like a coordinate on a map. No. Just as the Poe children show us, there are no ways to understand evil, and certainly not in such young people. Evil is fluid, it comes in many forms and all too often inexplicably.

American Gothic – Episode 9: “The Oxbow”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 9: “The Oxbow”
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Written by Lawrence Broch

* For a review of Episode 8, “Kindred Spirits” – click here
* For a review of Episode 9, “The Veteran in a New Field” – click here
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The title for this episode comes from Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm. Otherwise known as The Oxbow.
I wonder where the series will give homage to the 1836 oil painting?
Brad Ross (Elliot Knight) is having a rough go of things. But at least now he’s got Garrett Hawthorne (Antony Starr) in custody. He’s got the missing piece and Garrett’s knife matched. Flash to 2002, as Madeline (Virginia Madsen) finds her son, covered in blood, holding a knife. “What did you do?” she asks.
Well, we’re not given a straight answer. He looks incredibly guilty. But what more is there. Much more, I bet. Madeline visits him in jail and tries to start spinning things in her favour, to help her son. Or is it mostly to help herself? For now, Garrett has an attorney working for him, although he’s not particularly worried about what she’s doing. Instead he rattles off quotes from Horace Mann: “If evil is inevitable, how are the wicked held accountable? Why do we call men wicked at all? Evil if inevitable, but it is also remediable.”
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Back to 2003. A younger Garrett wakes up before his family arrives at the cabin, he takes off into the woods on his own again. While breaking into a cabin, he comes across Al Jenkins (M.C. Gainey) who isn’t exactly convinced with his story of just being out on his own, away from Boston. You can tell there’s more to that relationship.
In the current day, Garrett gets a call from Cam (Justin Chatwin) in rehab. Both brothers in their own respective cages. The older of the two apologises for getting his younger brother close to drugs the last time. Cam doesn’t think he needs to, but Garrett feels guilty generally for never being around. He confides in Cam: “You stayed true to yourselfIm so proud of you.” Cut back to the younger Garrett, out in those woods. He chases a rabbit with a knife until coming across Al once again. They have a bit of dinner together around the fire. They bond. This leads to Garrett getting his own cabin after Al leads him to the place of a now dead old man. And the life of the wandering Hawthorne begins. Al teaches him a thing or two about surviving on his own.
In present day Alison (Juliet Rylance) doesn’t believe her brother was an accomplice of any kind to the Silver Bells Killer, their dear ole dad. Who knows what’s left to be done for the elder Garrett brother at this point, though. In other news, Alison has Jennifer Windham (Sarah Power) started on a bit of dirty work trying to dig up dirt on the current mayor. Ah, the greasy Hawthorne ethic comes out strong in this one.


Slide back to 2008. Al tells Garrett about losing a niece, as they bond over family members to which they were close; Garrett talks about his sister Tess (Megan Ketch) and how they were the closest of all the family. Speaking of Tess, she is certainly not convinced about her brother, either. She keeps telling her husband there must be some other explanation. However, Brady does not get her “loyalty” to a guy like Garrett. He suggests confronting her brother, seeing if he’ll confess or deny it to her face.
It’s on!
The painting from which the episode gets its name is all about the confrontation between wilderness and civilisation. We see that represented totally through Garrett. As the years pass, he stays in the woods, away from civilisation. Away from his family. He peeks in occasionally. He buys a newspaper to read Cam’s cartoon Roger’s Cube. There’s part of him that doesn’t want to let go. He gets his number to Tess without being seen, so they can get in touch: “If you need it,” Garrett lets her know. Their bond is so obviously a deep one, a caring one. Great scenes between those two.
When Tess goes to see him in jail things have changed. At least a little. Garrett’s mostly only concerned with his possible niece or nephew coming along. He doesn’t want anybody worrying about him. Tess asks him point blank about the knife. Her brother won’t answer what she needs to hear, casually suggesting his guilt. The change in their relationship is becoming more of a divide. Everyone’s opinion of Garrett has gone 180 degrees.
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Jennifer’s been tracking the mayor. He meets with Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) in secret. What exactly are they doing?
We see more of creepy little Jack (Gabriel Bateman) visiting his uncle, being weird. Talking about the bubonic plague and other happy things. He mentions seeing Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) at the hospital near the ultrasound department; Garrett tries calling her, but no luck in talking much. Then he calls his lawyer, desperate to get out of jail: he’s going to be a dad.
There are big things happening in the Silver Bells case. Mainly the police department is getting their ass kicked by Garrett’s lawyer. She starts bringing up chain of custody, mishandling evidence. Might not be long before Garrett does see the light of day.
Switch back to ’08. Garrett finds Al in pain on the floor, his heart aching. He’s writhing in agony. “This is it,” he says. Death is coming for him. So Al begs his friend: “Help me die.” Of course Garrett refuses. The begging becomes desperate until finally he agrees to help Al along the way. He holds a pillow over the man’s face and eases him into the afterlife.
Seeing this, can we actually now say that Garrett was an accomplice to murder? Definitely not in the first hand sense. He could barely help a dying man go ahead and die. There’s reason to suspect he may not be a killer whatsoever.
Then 2016 rolls around, and Garrett heads back to the city when his father’s ready to die. Present day, he sits behind the walls of prison. On the television he watches Jennifer Windham reporting on the Silver Bells Killer. Someone holds her hostage, making her read a note claiming himself as the true accomplice.

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In 2002, after Madeline walked in on Garrett with the blood stains over him, the knife in his hand, she asks what he’s done. The young Garrett replies: “He tried to kill me.”
Everything gets deeper and deeper, with every turn.
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A solid entry into the first season. Great episode! Suspenseful, mysterious.
Next is “The Veteran in a New Field” and is titled so after an 1865 painting by Winslow Homer depicting a man using a scythe in an open, empty field. You can find that painting here.

Joshua Makes You Question the Nature or Nurture of Evil

Joshua. 2007. Directed by George Ratliff. Screenplay by David Gilbert & Ratliff.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean, Jacob Kogan, Nancy Giles, Linda Larkin, Alex Draper, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Ezra Barnes, Jodie Markell, Rufus Collins, Haviland Morris, & Tom Bloom. ATO Pictures.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
untitled
The creepy kid sub-genre (if that’s legitimately a thing) in horror is one that’s seen plenty of ripe material. Some of the classics dominate, such as The Omen and the lesser loved but awesome The Good Son featuring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. Then there are others which aren’t as great, though still enjoyable, like Children of the Corn. What makes us so worried in general about the killer kids, the little psychopaths, young boys and girls capable of murder, manipulation, and so much more, is the idea of nature v. nurture. With any representation of evil, adult and child alike, it’s a question of whether innocence is real. If it is inherent in human beings automatically and evil becomes engrained in people throughout the course of their lives. Or if there’s no such thing as innocence, and at birth humans are part of a cosmic Russian Roulette, in which children can come out on the opposite shade of that spectrum.
Joshua examines such questions of innocence. Even after the credits start to roll and we’ve watched with dread those final moments, there are no blatant answers. It may seem like everything’s obvious. Although that’s certainly not the case if you look closely. Added to the finale and its ending there are several key moments which call into question what exactly has happened. People can say they’ve got a definitive answer, and they may offer quite a deal of evidence to that point, yet there will always be a hovering air of mystery. Considering these events, when you look back on the film as a whole you start to try piecing together various theories, moving back and forth between possibilities. Ultimately, this is a strength, as Joshua is highly likely to stick in your mind, days after seeing it, possibly longer. And after so much madness you’ll start to question whether evil really is nurtured all the time after all.
Maybe innocence is far too fleeting.
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I love the natural feeling of the relationship between Brad and Abby (Sam Rockwell & Vera Farmiga). One of the biggest things about any drama, no matter what sort of genre boundaries it crosses, is that the character need to feel real. I don’t care what sort of story you’re telling, if the characters in your screenplay don’t connect with people emotionally on some level then there’s really no hope for anything else you’re attempting to do. While this movie is absolutely a (psychological)horror-thriller its main structure is an intense family drama. The foundation of which is always going to be real, honest characters. One example is early on when Brad joins Abby in bed – he’s trying to start sex, without being obnoxious, and his wife isn’t really ready yet, but he’s kissing her ass (literally), telling her how gorgeous she is, to the point of saying he loves how her armpits smell.
When the horror-thriller elements star to kick in hard there are obvious comparisons, and maybe homages, to similar films now considered classics. For instance, just Abby’s hair alone and later her pale complexion will have most people thinking of Rosemary’s Baby. As Joshua (Jacob Kogan) further manipulates his parents he becomes reminiscent of an even more actively involved Damien Thorn.
One of the eeriest scenes comes when the dog dies. The way Joshua mimics his father begins to show us how the boy might possibly be a psychopath. We know already there’s something not quite right, but this is a spooky moment. Even Brad starts to get a peek into the personality of his son, and though he soon forgets mostly about it this is a big turning point. As an audience, we’re gradually privy to more of his creepy behaviour that leads us farther and deeper into the boy’s psychopathy.
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Rockwell is a fantastic actor. He does well with a variety of characters, and this is no different. The character of Brad is complex. He’s a very loving, understanding husband, and all at once a man with needs, both emotional and physical. Later on, he becomes a sort of vilified father near the end. So as an actor Rockwell has tons with which he can work. He’s easy to relate with watching him deteriorate, and this is probably why it’s all so effective. We feel for him all the way. Alongside him is Farmiga, another awesome talent. She is always watchable, even in movies where there’s nothing too exciting going on. Here, she’s saddled with playing a role similar to the ones played by Mia Farrow and Lee Remick, only this is a much more realistic portrayal of a woman driven to madness by pregnancy and/or motherhood. It isn’t easy to portray an honest character like this, but Farmiga gives us the good and bad of a new mother, one that’s already experienced the exact same thing not even a decade before. Having seen several women go through that new life as a mother, including the rocky beginnings, I find Farmiga’s performance to be extremely on point. And when Joshua further drives his mother into psychological ruin there are some good scenes between Farmiga and Rockwell, where they give us a devastating look at a corroding marriage.
The best scene of all is the last one in the park, after Brad finally snaps. Everything about it is incredibly well executed. Love the score that accompanies the moment, very ominous and psycho-thriller-esque. But just the way Rockwell goes mental, fighting the men around him, it’s so intensely emotional. The camera draws back, panning out and giving us this almost auditorium-like view of the confrontation. Overall, a wonderful sequence.
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This is a 4-star film that I’d put up at the top of the pantheon of creepy kid sub-genre. Of course Joshua doesn’t come along with any of the outright bloody horror many of its counterparts boast. Nonetheless, it is horrific. A psychological thriller with enough viciousness to hold the attention of most. There are good performances, however, the writing is what does most of the work. Not every creepy kid flick has much innovative about its story. What Joshua doesn’t attain in its few missteps it gains back in an overall willingness to step outside the usual expectancies of the sub-genre and it makes up by subverting those ideas, giving us something altogether creepy and slightly original. The film avoids cliche at many turns simply due to the fact it opts for a plot that doesn’t dive into the supernatural. Everything is much too real and impressively believable.
Dig in, you’ll find a treat especially if creepy kids get to you. This is one boy I won’t soon forget.

Damien – Season 1, Episode 4: “The Number of a Man”

A&E’s Damien
Season 1, Episode 4: “The Number of a Man”
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Written by Nazrin Choudhury

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Deliverer” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Seven Curses” – click here
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What will Damien Thorn (Bradley James) encounter next? Last we left him, Ann Rutledge (Barbara Hershey) was working her wiles against his fragile mind. And it turns out she is more than just obsessed.
Simone Baptiste (Megalyn E.K.) is trying her hardest, too. In order to stay away from an evil approaching. Can she manage to keep free of it? She digs up some sort of chicken fetus-like creature from her bathtub, and it’s no doubt an ominous moment.
Damien’s busy fighting with whatever is inside him. Having a shave, he nearly feels like cutting his own throat. But the feeling passes. In his bathtub, he finds a tie clogging the drain – of course, the tie of the man from last episode. Which he then brings to John Lyons (Scott Wilson), whose council is no good. As we now know the older man, posing as a dear friend, is merely one of those watching along as Damien slouches towards his destiny as Antichrist.


Detective James Shay (David Meunier) gets some footage of Damien’s chase in the subway, which produces a strange, ghostly effect while being watched. More to be curious about. Meanwhile, Amani (Omid Abtahi) tries to convince Damien into taking a break from everything, taking it easy. Everyone’s worried. Even Shay arrives later to talk more with Damien about all the events surrounding him lately.
Damien and Shay head down to the cop shop for a longer chat. The cat and mouse thrill of the plot picks up, as the detective knows there’s something going on. But due to all the supernatural madness, he can’t exactly place everything correctly. Yet there’s Damien on CCTV, running after the man who died on the escalator. His proximity to the nastiness as of late, consuming those around him.
In the boardroom, Lyons addresses his staff. He even has Ann “say a few words“, in all the irony. She talks a good one about togetherness, compassion, and all sorts of similar things. Nice speech by a woman no doubt well versed in watching people die. “Nature of the beast,” she tells Lyons: “Pardon the pun.” Turns out afterwards that Ann didn’t leave the tie, but either way, she and John form a sort of partnership. For the time being, Ann goes along.
Shay is getting closer and closer to a theory of what’s going on. He knows Damien’s pulling “some freaky shit“, and that involves dogs. He shows Damien the hall where he was also attacked, right in the station. But the cop’s more concerned with trying to push the young man into a confrontation. Poor damn fella has no idea what he’s up against. Plenty of tension between these two. Something intense is certainly rearing its head, and soon there’ll be trouble. Lots.


Damien: “People who come after me dont fare so well


In the police station, a man confronts Damien, calling him a serpent, “The Destroyer“, and when he grabs some scissors Damien attempts to stop him from stabbing someone. Seems he only wanted to stab himself. In the groin. Whoa, what a vicious moment! Bloody, creepy, and foreboding.
With lighter things to worry about, Amani’s trying to get Damien a job. He is a true friend, one who knows his partner is a great photographer. So he kicks a little ass in an interview for him.
Ann receives Detective Shay at her place. He’s suspicious about the “special room” Damien told him about. The whole thing sounds like something from a mystery-thriller novel, a bad one, though, she leads the cop to her supposed panic room: “I never use it. I never panic,” Ann tells him. Well, she cleaned out the basement and there’s nothing to be found, which obviously paints Damien in a worse psychiatric light.
But now Amani is running into trouble. The protege of Ann Rutledge, Veronica Selvaggio (Melanie Scrofano), is circling around like a vulture. No doubt readying herself to clear Amani from the life of Damien. Convenient for Ann, too. Whom will escape any scrutiny for anything that may happen.
As for Simone, her mother is getting some voodoo-style witchery going on to help with her latest fetus in the bathtub troubles. She doesn’t feel too into it, but her mother and the witch doctor are awfully serious. And things get… pretty wild.


A little while later, Ann collects Damien from the station. Though he’s clearly not happy with that situation. Damien gets violently serious with Ann, threatening to kill her if that’s what’s required. Don’t forget – Ann has a serious BDSM thing happening, so who knows what she’d be into. “The day will come,” she tells Damien before walking off into the night. You creepy, sly bitch.
Damien gets a visit from Simone. More of the 666 prophecies. She brings up the visions since her sister died, the prevalence of the birds, and more. They’re both being torn apart, in different ways. He talks about the things he’s seen, in war photography, and that suffering happens; that’s it. There is no higher power with a purpose. Hard to hear, though, necessary. Only Damien will soon realize there is something else behind it all. a great, dark power.
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Damien: “Kelly died. And a bird is just a bird.”
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At home, Detective Shay and his husband have a nice little life together. Except up shows another hound of Hell, and it’s got an eye on their little boy. It lures the child out towards the swimming pool. Uh oh.
Then Shay finds the boy underneath the pool cover, dragged about by some mysterious force. The whole sequence is terrifying, as something evil tries to drown the boy. But Shay, he fights back. One of the most unnerving scenes out of the series so far, and certainly doesn’t help a kid is involved. However, Shay now knows there’s something bigger, something more horrific at play than simply Damien.


Next episode, “Seven Curses”, should be another exciting one. This was a fun episode and I’m enjoying with Glen Mazzara and Co. are doing, as the show gets better with time. Stay tuned for me with me.

The Amityville Horror Never Lets Truth Get in its Way

The Amityville Horror. 1979. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Screenplay by Sandor Stern; based on the book by Jay Anson.
Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Michael Sacks, Helen Shaver, and Amy Wright. American International Pictures. Rated 14A. 117 minutes. Drama/Horror.

★★★★
tumblr_my6iwqtjYe1qh35m6o1_1280 When it comes to the haunted house movies that go for the possessed angle – the house driving someone crazy or literally possessing them – I still think The Amityville Horror is near the top of my favourites. Different than The Exorcist where that’s a demon, I love this even without all the true story aspects of it, which are likely a hoax as far as I’m concerned. But that’s a discussion for another time.
This movie just creeps me out. I mean, when the priest is in that room with the flies covering his face, then all of a sudden you here it softly first – “Get out” – the priest looks around in awe and it says once more, louder and raspier this time – “GET OUT” – every time I see that part, I know it’s coming, and consistently it freaks me out. Love it! Always enjoy a movie which continually scares me any time I watch it over the years.
Plus, there’s something about the idea of a house’s history affecting the people who live in afterwards that gets to me at my core. Because, although I don’t believe in any life after death, I’m forever sceptical at the same time. I’m always questioning. So, I can’t fully discount that there may be something we don’t know about yet, something that could be proven eventually. For me, watching horror movies is not always about realism. In this type of film, you have to try and remove yourself a little from reality, but at the same time you can still stay slightly grounded. Just imagine, what would you do if a house started driving you crazy? What could you do, really? When I watch horror, I’ll usually try to put myself in the shoes of the characters involved. That’s one reason this movie scares me because if I were in that house with James Brolin going slowly mad, I’d probably have been terrified right to the bone.
TheAmityvilleHorror1The Amityville Horror is based on the, supposedly, true events which transpired in the house of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) – where years before, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his family in cold blood as they slept at night. Moving in with their children, the Lutz family find a great new home; spacious, a boathouse out back with a small dock, good land. Once moved into their house, strange things begin to happen. George begins to wake up every morning at 3:15 AM on the dot. The young daughter starts talking about an imaginary little girl named Jodi who actively becomes more and more involved in her life. Even a priest comes to the house trying to bless the place when Kathy sends request, but he is driven from the premises by some evil force, screaming at him, sending him away by any means. Things get worse and worse, and slowly George seems to be sucked into whatever terror lays beyond the veil between the living and the dead.

I think a part of what makes The Amityville Horror work is the family dynamic. When considering the real supposed story, George Lutz (Brolin) is the husband of Kathy (Kidder), but the children are his stepchildren. Apparently he was not exactly the perfect stepfather and he was a bit tough on them. He’s running a business and everything is on him, so while the house exerts its evil influence over George his business begins to suffer. Then Kathy is of course concerned about him, trying to figure out what’s going on. There are so many things at play within the Lutz family. It’s as if the house feeds off any already negative energy or presence within its walls, it uses that to generate more of the negative energy still left over from the past. That’s what makes this movie real interesting for me.
TheAmityvilleHorror2In the early scenes as Brolin and Kidder stroll through the house, there’s some really excellent editing which truly caught me off-guard. I didn’t expect the quick cuts to, what ultimately are, the murders of Butch DeFeo Jr. These are the murders of course that happened in the now haunted house. I love how they’re incorporated here. As I said, some spot-on editing. Great stuff from editor Robert Brown, whose work includes Damien: Omen IIBrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich VillageThe Lost Boys, and Flatliners. Kudos to him for the stuff in this film. He has a real touch for the horror genre, as far as I’m concerned.

All the little touches are creepy. Such as George’s waking up at exactly 3:15 AM. This is supposedly the time when Butch DeFeo killed his family in their beds. So even though the supposed hauntings are inspiration for this, and I don’t believe the real story in so far as I’m concerned, I still find the whole thing utterly unsettling. The movie stands well enough on its own for me.
Still, the part that has always gotten to me the most is the scene when the babysitter gets locked in the closet. Damn, does it ever work on my nerves. I always feel so bad for her because I don’t like closed spaces, so I think if I’d have been locked in there – by a child or a ghost or whoever – I would lose my mind eventually. Plus, the blood on her knuckles, rapping on the door, beating against it; such a vicious image. Then the light goes out, and to this day, no matter how many times I’ve seen it my spine will chill. From bottom to top and back again. Great, spooky stuff!
axe-terrorThe reason my love for this movie endures is the atmosphere. Time and time again I’ve said it: atmosphere and tone, these are things which work for me. If a movie has those and can keep up relatively nicely with a bit of solid dialogue, add in some decent characters and you’ve sold me!
Stuart Rosenberg, as far as I’m concerned, is a classic director. Not everything he did was perfect, but I think he has enough wonderful pictures under his belt we can look back on his career to say it went well. He did some great ones – Brubaker with Robert Redford, Cool Hand Luke including the classic performance of Paul Newman, and The Pope of Greenwich Village featuring Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke in maybe the performances of their careers or at least close to it. So, I’d throw this film on the list. He’s good at crafting tension and suspense, in everything he has done. Most certainly here. There are a ton of moments that have me held close to the screen each time I see the movie. Some of the shots of the Lutz house are downright ominous and foreboding, I absolutely love them. That iconic red filtered shot of the Lutz house from the outside is KILLER! Dig that one, so much.

A particularly favourite shot of mine is at almost the 40 minute mark. George (Brolin) is putting wood in on the fire. The flames are crackling and licking up. You can barely see his features, but the fire casts on his face in a reddish glow; his beard/goatee looks as if it were the devil himself. Then, as he leans back, the glow leaves and he looks like a frightened man, losing his mind. Perfect stuff.
Not only do I love the shot, we get to see a great bit between Kidder and Brolin. The look in Brolin’s eyes is insanely perfect. He is one great actor, man. I’ve always thought that, anyways, aside from this movie. But there is something in his face, a great gift of expression, which works like a charm for the character of George Lutz. While I love a movie like The Shining, I’ve always agreed with Stephen King when he says that Jack Nicholson sort of starts off crazy; I mean, you get that typical Nicholson feel right from the very beginning in the opening car scene. Here, with Brolin’s depiction of George Lutz, it gives the genuine feeling that he is a man who is going crazy. At the beginning he’s definitely a sombre guy – I attribute that mostly to the fact he’s a bit of a serious guy, lots of stuff going on with his business, buying the house, probably how a lot of people might be in the situation. There’s something, however, which changes as time goes on, and as opposed to something like Nicholson’s performance – which I do enjoy – there’s that honest feeling something is going seriously awry in the Lutz house.
large amityville horror blu-ray10Margot Kidder is no slouch either. Ever since seeing Black Christmas and the under-seen/under-appreciated Brian De Palma horror-thriller Sisters I have been in love with this woman! Wonderful, talented actress. She is a true great. Her performance here matches the intensity of Brolin at the right times and we really get the feeling this is a woman who loves her husband, as she tries so hard to help him hold onto reality, but also works to the bone trying to protect her children.
Oh, and Rod Steiger – bad ass. Constant bad ass. I love him in this and I could watch it a hundred times just for his scenes because they’re enough to make you stand up and shout. He’s a classic actor and this is one role that will always, always come up when I think of his name. Solid stuff out of him, as is to be expected. He plays a typical role we’ve seen, a million times since, yet it’s one I would rank up there with Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist. Absolutely.

While I love this horror movie, tons, I’ll only be able to say it’s a 4 out of 5 star film. There are a few points of dialogue I’m not too keen on, mostly when it concerns other characters outside of the Lutz’s themselves. I think at times the script in general could’ve been tighter, mainly to compact things a bit more. Great film, in spite of its dubious “true” roots – still, I tend to find it’s a little longer than it needs to be. I think with Brolin and Kidder, with Steiger thrown in for good measure, this movie didn’t need to be close to 2 hours long. A solid hour and a half would’ve done the job quite proper.
Either way, it is a classic of the genre and will forever be a favourite of mine in the haunted house genre. Near the top. Great performances are what drives the best bits here, as well as good atmosphere and quality editing. Always recommend this to anyone who has to see it.