Too Much Camp in HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY

House II: The Second Story. 1987. Directed & Written by Ethan Wiley.
Starring Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Bill Maher, John Ratzenberger, Lar Park-Lincoln, Amy Yasbeck, Gregory Walcott, Dwier Brown, Lenora May, Devin DeVasquez, Jayne Modean, Ronn Carroll, & Dean Cleverdon.
New World Pictures/Sean S. Cunningham Films
Rated PG-13. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★1/2
HOUSE3The previous House is the first horror movie I ever remember seeing. Well, I thought for a long time it was a dream I had when I was young, I couldn’t figure out which movie it was I saw. Until a few years back. So, naturally, once I watched it again, I decided there’s no sense in stopping. Why not watch them all?
House II: The Second Story really doesn’t have any continuity with the first film, but that’s okay. No need, really. A young couple, Jesse (Arye Gross) and Kate (Lar Park Lincoln), move into a big, ancient mansion that’s been passed down through generations of his family. Soon after, Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) uncover photos of his great-great grandfather (Royal Dano) at a Mayan temple with a crystal skull in hand. From there, it’s adventure.
While the tone of the first film isn’t present, the comedy is, all the way. There are definitely bits of horror here, but House II feels more like a comedic fantasy than anything else. The horror element mainly comes out of the fact that Gramps – and later his dastardly partner Slim (Dean Cleverdon) – is a walking corpse, plus a few other undead and weird things that show up along the way. It’s not as good as the previous House. Regardless, you can still have a little fun.
HOUSE1There’s connective tissue joining the sequel to its predecessor, even if they really don’t have anything to do with one another in continuity. Such as the theme of family history and family secrets continuing. Although here it’s more grandiose.
We’re treated to a Western adventure-style film spoof. Throw in a time portal-like gateway for good measure. This leads way to madcap action after a dinosaur gets loose in the house, a caterpillar-dog hybrid shows up like a cute little house pet, and the comedy of errors started in the first movie is amplified times ten or more with a bit that prehistoric chaos causing trouble. Throw in a pre-Islamophobe Bill Maher, and it’s a pretty damn wild ride.
Favourites & Tidbits:
– Undead horse, baby! The horse itself is gnarly, in the best sense. However, Slim, the cowboy riding him, isn’t half as cool looking as Gramps.
– Western gunfight in the finale rules pretty hard. Not too often you get one like this, either.
– Kane Hodder, after his work on the first film, returned as stunt co-ordinator. Always great having a genre veteran like him working on a project. The stunts were definitely bigger this time around, too.
– In 1987, Marvel released a comic version of the movie written by none other than Ralph Macchio.
– Anyone out there dig 2001’s remake of Thirteen Ghosts? Me, too. And the house in this movie is the same one used there; if you have a real good eye, you might just pick out the similarities, buried underneath the set design.
HOUSERight off the bat the effects and makeup work are infinitely better. While House‘s dead had a campy quality, the sequel’s got camp but less in the effects department; more so in dialogue and definitely the acting. The risen great-great grandpa looks better than the zombie corpses of the first film, mostly. Not as dark or unsettling as them, though.
Part of what doesn’t work is the pacing. While suspension of disbelief is necessary in a film like this, obviously, as opposed to Cobb’s discover of the haunted house’s spirits in the first film the supernatural moments here are rushed way too fast, with little to no setup, suspense, or any real tact at all. Fun, but absolute nonsense. Coming from someone who loves the foolish first movie, too. If you whittle away too much of the ins and outs of the plot, the events, even the characters, things fall apart at the seams fast. You can enjoy something that’s not the greatest, but if it’s this flimsy on the writing when the effects have a wholehearted feel, the viewer’s left wondering why.
Another large killer compared to the previous movie are the performances. It’s all meant to be infused with camp, no doubt. Yet House retained a dark quality underneath, half in the writing, half in the way William Katt portrayed Roger Cobb, dangling on the edge of comically insane and existentially horrified. Here, none of the performances are worth talking about. In fact, whereas the first movie had Cheers alumni George Wendt, his old drinking buddy John Ratzenberger returns here, giving us what’s likely the best performance out of any of the actors in the cast. So, as fun and spoofy as House II is intended to come off, it doesn’t have the comedic power to make it successful in its aims. Too bad, because despite that there’s fun to be had in the plot.
MSDHOUS EC030There’s no recommending House II: The Second Story as an unmissable film. Neither is it close to the top 50 horror movies of the 1980s. House wasn’t amazing, even though I hold it in higher regard. But it was both creepy and funny, darkly funny, at that. Katt’s central performance grounded the tone of the movie. Its sequel isn’t able to capture any of that same magic, nor is it capable of breaking out into its own thing at any time.
Truthfully, even if it’s not a great movie the next movie in the series, The Horror Show (a.k.a House 3) is better than the second. Just because these movies need that dark edge. Without that, there’s no contrast to the black comedy that emerges. Not to mention House II doesn’t even have much true horror, the stuff we get is decidedly tame in contrast to the rest of the series. By all means, watch them. They’ve all got something worth enjoying, no matter if it’s fleeting. This sequel will, at the very least, make you laugh. Not always in the way intended, but laugh you shall.

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The Sequel I Tried to Like: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2

The Houses October Built 2. 2017. Directed by Bobby Roe. Screenplay by Roe & Zack Andrews.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, & Jeff Larson.
Foreboding Films.
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 12.14.39 PMLet’s get this straight, I’ve been a huge fan of The Houses October Built since it came out. After seeing it, loving it, I looked for the original documentary that came out a few years before by the same director, the same people. There’s a palpable fear about the first film, one that gets under the skin and works at you, rarely letting up. It also had the benefit of a group of actors who were clearly close friends, reflected in the final product as well-developed, genuine characters.
But, oh, this sequel. After it was announced, I was excited. Not every movie needs a sequel these days, but it felt like there could be more to the story, if the filmmakers were so inclined to show us. The Houses October Built 2 promised plenty, ultimately delivering on little to none of what I’d hoped.
Where I was expecting another gruelling experience, rooted in the unknown yet all too human, I got only a retread in familiar territory. Not great ones, either. What’s more, the tension is near non-existent. The original was a tense experience, one haunted house attraction after another. Even when frights were expected, they were creepy, at times truly frightening. By the time the big reveal comes, it’s too late in the game. What’s worse is the ending feels like a massive bluff, in a bad way. Not that the audience is disrespected, it’s just cheap, it takes away what little power was built in the climax. If the first film wasn’t so damn effective this experience wouldn’t have been as disappointing.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.24.41 PM

The Good

Always love when a sequel gives us a taste of happened directly after the events of its predecessor. As in literally; we begin following The Houses October Built‘s finale, after Blue Skeleton has taken the group, Brandy’s pulled out of her grave and left on a desolate road. Then, it’s interesting how Brandy is framed as the wholly central character here, as opposed to just one out of a group. She and her friends, though mostly her, become internet celebrities after it was all livestreamed.
Spectacular premise. Brandy as Coffin Girl, known all over America in the state-to-state haunt circles, promises the possibility of different themes than the first. Along with that is the evolution of the haunt, the various forms of the haunted house attraction getting scarier, or more involved, some including virtual reality elements. These new bits and pieces make for the sequel’s best, most effective elements.
The Blue Skeleton POV shots following the group are chilling, perhaps the more nerve-racking sections in the film. We’ve seen this before, but now the mood changes from one of a sinister playfulness to entirely sinister altogether, malevolent. Considering the overall lack of tension, these interludes are the ones that hook the viewer efficiently, keeping us on edge and in suspense of what might happen next down the road.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.38.18 PM

The Bad & The Ugly

Quickly during the opening sequence, the atmosphere of the first film goes out the window. Whereas we spent The Houses October Built entirely in that found footage perspective of the group, this sequel goes for traditionally shot scenes, going so far as to include drone shots that feel totally out of place, like they had a drone and decided just to use it for the sake of using it. The earliest drone shot isn’t their camera, it’s an opening shot similar to the one that opened the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, meant as an establishing shot. Here, it’s disorienting, and immediately there’s a sense the first film’s fantastic atmosphere will not carry over.
The found footage sections are all manipulated, too. They’re edited with music, little intros to some of the haunts. Not a total stickler for the unwritten rules of the sub-genre, sometimes people nitpick too much. However, at a certain point if the filmmakers don’t at least try adhering to them whatsoever, there’s a disruption in how we related to this type of film, and it also makes you wonder why bother doing it as found footage.
The worst sin is a dearth of tension. The Houses October Built felt harrowing in particular moments, from the actual haunts themselves to the strange cast of characters the group encounter while spiralling down a rabbit hole looking for Blue Skeleton’s extreme, travelling haunt. There are no quiet, creeping moments of terror, none of the ominous characters we saw in the first like sort of gatekeepers on the road to some horrific place. This never comes to fruition in the sequel, we’re treated to a skull mask turning up in one of the haunts as Brandy spies it and gets unnerved; this doesn’t come until about 70 minutes in.
We’re left bored until over an hour in. Despite any of the creepiness which follows, the build-up doesn’t match the pay off. The last 25 minutes work well, sadly the preceding hour and fifteen don’t provide the tension necessary to make Hellbent, their final attraction destination, as unsettling as it could’ve been. Worst of all, there’s a moment in the end where we’re led to believe a shocking, nasty, tragic act has occurred, only to be twisted around and shown this was an illusion of sorts. It’s a scene that makes the viewer feel cheated. More than that, it would’ve been perfect to end the film there and then. Instead the filmmakers undo the impact of this shattering climax, spoiling the plot with an utterly abysmal finish.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.47.58 PMIt’s hard to judge sequels separately as entirely different entities outside of a franchise. Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween; some of the films in these series’ don’t particularly link well with the others, whether intentional or just because of poor writing, and so it allows us to look at particular entries as a sort of standalone film even under the name of a franchise.
The Houses October Built 2 is very much meant as the second blow of a one-two punch, the sequel works as a direct, sequential follow-up to the first. You can’t take this one as its own film, they should both work in conjunction. On the one hand, the plot continues perfectly, losing no continuity. On the other, we get none of the same atmosphere, none of the same mood, as if we’ve stepped out of this story’s universe and into another.
I’ll always love The Houses October Built, it’s undeniably one of the better found footage horror flicks out there; definitely at the top of the heap in this decade. Because of that love, I can’t help but be disappointed, it’s hard to contain. I always try going into a film without being predisposed to expectation, no matter how much I look forward to the experience. Sequels are always tough, in that light. I gave this a chance. Even without comparison to the other, this one feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe we’ll get a third film to redeem this little series. Until then I’ll stick with the first.

In Defence Of & In Love With SCREAM 4

Scream 4. 2011. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Alison Brie, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Anthony Anderson, Mary McDonnell, & Adam Brody.
Dimension Films/Corvus Corax Productions/Outerbanks Entertainment
Rated R. 111 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
poster-scream-4When a franchise stretches out over a few decades, often times fans – horror fans in particular – can get fickle over what they want to see. And I don’t blame them. If you’re a huge fan of a series then it’s understandable to be guarded over the original film(s), to feel like even the original director-writer team might not be capable of matching what they did so long ago.
All those ideas go out the window with Scream 4. Sure, it’s 15 years later, and the generation of young people involved has changed significantly. There’s new technology, new rules to the slasher horror game. At the core, this both pays tribute to the original in huge ways, as well as forges its own path as a worthy sequel.
Craven and Williamson don’t get every little thing right. But they worked hard to give this the same creepiness and excitement as the first Scream, providing brand new characters in the landscape of Woodsboro and never forgetting the tried true originals of the franchise. Old meets new in the best, most genuine kind of way.
Scream-4-movie-imageThere’s always a stellar opening, even in the previous, lesser instalment. Craven and Williamson do not slouch here, either. One girl complains of no character development before characters die in Saw, when in fact we watch the young women in this opener die without any development whatsoever, similar to Drew Barrymore’s character in the original Scream. Williamson’s self-referential, tongue-in-cheek writing once more, as we cut to two other women watching Stab 6. They talk about the conventions and tropes of horror, so on, and then we again cut to two more girls watching Stab 7, further questioning the genre’s trappings. You almost, for a second, believe it’ll keep going, and going, one girl stabbed after the next. Great way for Craven and Williamson to poke fun at themselves, too.
One thing I dug about the last film was that composer Marco Beltrami used new pieces in the score, alongside some familiar ones, as well. The new compositions are fresh and interesting, they make the score feel new, yet at the same time we get those old sounds. With a new sequel 11 years since the previous entry in the series, Beltrami picked up where he left off while offering depth to his Scream repertoire.
Some gnarly kills worth seeing. One of the opening girls has her throat slit, and it is downright savage. When Perkins (Anderson) is stabbed in the head some find it funny, because of the “Fuck Bruce Willis” line. And yeah, it’s funny. Nasty all the same.
SPOILER ALERT: Charlie’s death is a disturbing one, very brutal. And when Jill does her best Tyler Durden I always find it pretty sickening, though fascinating; she thrashes the life out of herself, as the dying bodies of friends and family lay bleeding around her.
scream-4-2Part of what makes the screenplay work so well is the contempt of remakes, or at least the many awful remakes out there. In a fourth film, that’s sort of confident. This is not a remake, obviously, of the original, just a continuation of the story concerning Sidney Prescott (Campbell). But still, much of what they satirise in terms of remakes – mainly through snappy dialogue from Charlie (Culkin), Kirby (Panettiere), Robbie (Knudsen) – could be aimed at sequels, and definitely at sequels a little ways down the line.
Regardless, Williamson forges on with what made the first two films really impressive, that self-deprecating, self-referential style. It’s not all satire, though. We go back to the original by way of some Ghostface killing. Such as when Kirby watches Charlie from behind a glass door as he’s tied to a chair, just as Drew Barrymore’s character watched her boyfriend in Scream. Poor Kirby’s even subjected to another scary movie game. In other films this could feel cheese-filled to the brim. In the hands of Craven and Williamson, the scene comes off genuinely tense and, ultimately, horrific.
The biggest thing I love, story-wise, is that the Maureen Prescott’s been buried; pardon the pun. There’s no stretch, as in Scream 3 at times, to try attaching her character to the motive of the killers. Rather this story puts Sidney in the spotlight, even her family, cousin Jill (Roberts) and aunt Kate (McDonnell) get dragged into the terror. Whereas Sidney’s always been the main character, technically in that spotlight, the focus of the series in terms of why the murders were happening was Maureen. This entry in the series shifts focus wholly onto Sidney, which is, for her, unfortunately tragic.
scream-4-3Effectively, Williamson’s screenplay gets back to the interesting motives of the first two films. The motives have evolved, as have the killers. Here, the killers speak to the modern murder explanation of how the lust for fame can drive unstable people to untold, utterly insane lengths. Media begets the sick mind, in that a quest for fame can become out of control when celebrity is literally but a stab away. More relevant as of my writing in 2017 than even when it came out in 2011.
Scream 4 is a whole lot of fun, and holds its share of gruesomeness. Sidney has become like her mother in a way, as once Maureen loomed over Sidney and Woodsboro, but now her daughter looms over everyone. The terror she experienced at the hands of the various Ghostface killers encompassed a further generation of her family, creating all new dynamics, and in turn a new set of killers.
The callbacks to Scream are done so well, switching up situations and characters, self-parodying and being critical of sequels and remakes even when Craven himself has produced remakes. It’s just an example of why the first movie worked, why the second was also a powerhouse. Testament to the wonderful teamwork of Craven and Williamson. The willingness of this slasher franchise to be simultaneously satirical and also deadly serious from one moment to the next is a big part of why the movies have succeeded. A huge part of why I’ll always love them, and why Craven was a master.

Why SCREAM 2 is Better Than People Are Willing to Admit

Scream 2. 1997. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Elise Neal, Liev Schreiber, Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joshua Jackson, Timothy Olyphant, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, Lewis Arquette, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia de Rossia, & David Arquette.
Dimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Craven-Maddalena Films.
Rated R. 120 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★posterscream2Disclaimer: It’s been 20 years. If you haven’t seen this yet, expect to be spoiled.

Make no mistake, I loved Scream. When it first came out my friend and I watched it together, we were maybe 12, and it truly scared us. Wes Craven is one of the masters of the horror genre. While the first film in the series took a – pardon me for this – stab at horror movies in a post-modern, metafictional style, screenwriter Kevin Williamson comes back with Craven for the sequel, Scream 2, and they not only stab again at the heart of horror cliches, as well as sequels, they genuinely up the seriousness of the story while still staying fresh and self-deprecating at the right moments.
There’s a lot people take for granted when it comes to this series overall, but especially this sequel. Everyone expected something particular, which is always a gamble when it comes to a huge movie many fans loved. But this sequel offered many things that horror fans who don’t give it the proper credit don’t often notice, at least not the first time around. Sure, the whole thing with the new Ghostface picking off victims using the names of victims from the original massacre, that’s something, and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks has more Rules to Survive a Horror MovieSequel to offer his friends and the audience.
But the true strength of this film comes in the writing of Williamson, and its execution at the hands of Mr. Craven. Running the gamut from horror parody (Stab with Tori Spelling and Luke Wilson) to the inclusion of high art and stage tragedy (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon from the Oresteia), it’s like a great piece of literary fiction and Scream 2 is better than many are willing to admit. I don’t pretend to know why, and I also know not everything is for everyone. I do know a few reasons why it’s worth reconsidering and popping on for another watch.
scream2-1Starting in the first film, Craven takes aim at many things, including his beloved genre of choice. Mainly though, he focuses his assault on the media. Gale Weathers (Cox) is a ruthless reporter, the epitome of ‘willing to do anything to get the story’ even if that includes dragging victims through the mud. By the same token, she’s also, now and then, shown as a double-edged sword, someone who, like in the case of Cotton Weary (Schreiber), also wants to get to the bottom of the truth, eventually. What’s interesting is that this sequel – and continuing in the third film – marks a transition for Gale, where she’s still clinging to her old ways but also finding out there’s another side, that reporters just need to work a little harder and they can be respected, instead of being the latest fodder generating instrument for headlines. Moreover, she’s too busy chasing the next story in this sequel to see a killer right in front of her.
Gale’s nastiest moment comes when she confronts Sidney (Campell) with Cotton in tow; an effectively awful scene concerning exploited victims, all at the hands of Ms. Weathers in her search for the next big thing to keep her fame from fading. Strange how she’s basically the precursor for people like Piers Morgan, Nancy Grace, and other media ‘personalities’ today clinging to any kind of controversy or whatever it takes to stay in the spotlight.
The opening sequence is really the nail in the coffin of media exploitation. Audiences are desensitised, something I’m sure Craven was very aware of, long before Scream 2. When Jada Pinkett Smith’s character perishes during this opener, we see the wreckage of desensitisation. People are so jaded that she literally has to die on stage for the crowd to see, to understand it’s real and not a gimmick. Further than that there’s the idea of media exploiting true crimes to turn into films, franchises, merchandise, et cetera. Everyone is so caught up in the Stab gimmick – all the Ghostface masks, rubber knives, all those toys and replicas – they probably imagined this woman getting stabbed in front of them was a marketing campaign, the next step in the film studio evolving to the times. And what’s funny is that this was released 20 years ago as of my writing, yet it’d be even more genuinely believable in this day and age than then, you could see this happening in 2017. Craven rubs in the reality when JPS hits the stage, lingering on her dead face, the blood, her cold eyes, before cutting to the title. A jarring image.
scream2-2The age old question rears its head once more in Craven’s sequel: do horror movies and violent images breed killers and/or homicidal thought? As we find out with Mickey (Olyphant), life really does imitate art like he points out, and he even plans on using it as a defence. This is spectacular for a couple reasons.
Number one, Mickey is one of the Ghostface murderers in this film and he goes against the killers of the first film, Billy Loomis and Stu Macher; they were big horror movie lovers, but were motivated primarily by revenge for Sidney’s mom sleeping with Billy’s father before their family fell apart. Mickey is wholeheartedly invested in movies as motive, the media has warped his mind and he’s going to use it to try getting off with murder.
Number two, life imitating art factors into the big finale. We start the film with a death on a movie theatre stage, we end the film with a final confrontation on a theatrical stage. Not just that, the play Sidney is a part of is Agamemnon, which is a tale of family and revenge; this directly parallels Scream 2‘s story that ultimately deals with family and revenge. When the other killer is unmasked it links to family, the first film. Then the deaths, completing the tragedy of a Greek play, add another effect to the whole. Sidney’s performance itself, her character, is a great inclusion. Plus, the audience witnesses a head trip of a rehearsal as she loses herself in the masks onstage, believing Ghostface lurks around each costume. Not only does Williamson use the Greek tragedy in parallel with his plot, the sequence at the rehearsal comes off as impressively theatrical, a nice visual and thematic few moments. All this together makes clear that the screenplay is well crafted, not just another sequel to a slasher waiting to be forgotten.
scream2-3As was the case in the original film, Williamson writes a nice whodunnit scenario, as Craven spins the words into near constant tension. Nobody here is safe from suspicion, and seeing Scream 2 for the first time is real fun because it’s a great guessing game for a while. More than that there are a couple perfect slasher horror scenes, a unique score like we got the first time around, and the returning actors – Campbell, Cox, Arquette, Kennedy – do a fine job carrying the material, sinking further into their characters this time around.
One last mention is that I love how they didn’t throw Cotton Weary to the side. He wasn’t forgotten, and the inclusion of his character, following up on his false imprisonment for the killing of Sidney’s mother, is not just good for the whodunnit mystery, it does wonders for the whole concentrated universe of the Scream series. I actually wish Weary lasted longer in the next movie, but alas, we at least get a bit more Schreiber!
Either way, this is a great sequel, one of the better and more underappreciated sequels to a slasher over the past 20 years, that’s for damn sure. I know this did well at the box office, but over time I feel like many horror fans fell out of love with it, if they ever actually loved it in the first place. All I know is that Craven directs this film at a masterful level, the suspense is unbearable and he keeps you on edge, while the story Williamson weaves adds to what made the first film so perfectly creepy and effective (in terms of its aim at media and the sensationalised way people view true crime), as well as provides serious weight to the story overall in his use of Agamemnon.
You’ll do far worse than this Craven flick if you want to throw in a sequel. Take a stormy, eerie night when the wind outside is blowing, turn off the lights, and let Scream 2 get in your head.

RINGS: The Sequel I Never Knew I Wanted

Rings. 2017. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, & David Loucka.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, & Laura Wiggins.
Macari-Edelstein/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation/Vertigo Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2
posterDisclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to go in fresh, and I suggest you do, then DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! For thou will be spoiled.

To start, I’ve always loved both the original Ringu from Hideo Nakata and also Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring. They’re equally disturbing and eerie, in their own rights. I was a lot less impressed with Nakata doing the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two, which I’d hoped would’ve been better. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed bits. Overall I love the mythology of the original story, how the remake handled it in his own way, and of course the first film from Nakata with its truly ghostly feeling. They’re each the type of horror that works its way under your skin until it’s inside you. Remember that first hideous, dead face in the closet in Verbinski’s film? I don’t even have to watch it again to picture it in my mind.
So, once Rings was announced, I actually – honestly – did not give a shit. Total honesty. A few days ago while I had the day to myself, I wandered into Cineplex and bought a ticket. Again, full disclosure: I wanted to see Split (which I will soon). Seeing as how there wasn’t a showtime soon enough for me, Rings got my money.
Although there are a few things I didn’t like – namely the last couple minutes with its reveal, and some issues I had concerning the time frame of certain events – there were a ton of other things I enjoyed, a hell of a lot. Never expected it, either. And maybe that helped. No matter what it was, part of the credit is certainly F. Javier Gutiérrez’s directing. Plus I was impressed by the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, and David Loucka, who managed to deliver a screenplay that, while faulty in spots, felt imaginative, Gothic, and paid tribute to the original story in a fresh way.
rings1At first I felt like the opening was cheesy, as it’s the same plane scene we saw in promos recently. Then, as I sat in the theatre, it felt much more dreadful. Really pulse pounding, stressful stuff. Worked great on the big screen. This is an example of the writers bringing Samara (Bonnie Morgan) onto (and in through) the screen in intriguing ways. Later, perhaps my favourite appearance of Samara through a television screen happens as Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) hides in a bathroom – the victim tears a TV from the wall to try stopping the inevitable, and then Samara emerges as the screen lies flat on the floor, pushing her way out into the world (see: picture below). The opener and this scene alone gave us enough new, exciting appearances by the girl at the heart of the story that I feel Estes, Goldsman, and Loucka deserve a pat on the back. They could’ve focused totally on the story itself, the mythology, and left Samara’s television high jinks by the wayside, unoriginal, stale. They chose to try covering it all.
Brings me to another part of Rings I loved: the mythology opens up. The story takes us into a whole new era, literally. We bridge the gap between VHS and MPEG-4; the first interesting plot point. Johnny Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel. He ends up buying a VCR from a sale, and it winds up containing a stuck tape – you know which one! From there, this leads him into an existential search for answers after discovering, as Naomi Watts and others before him, that to survive you must make a copy of the tape, and the cycle continues. He begins a sort of secretive research project involving people watching the tape, then another person hours later watching the copy (a ‘tail’ as Gabriel calls it). Amazing setup for another chapter in The Ring‘s mythology.
rings2That’s not all, though. A man named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio) turns up later, and the town he lives in played a significant part in the life of Samara. It also holds the key to where she came from, before poor Brian Cox and his wife had their lives – and horses – destroyed by the little girl. This is where the Gothic feel of the story comes into play. This calls us back to that feeling Verbinski tapped into with The Ring, where the country-type settings return and the Gothic sense of secrets brimming under the surface of the town come alive once more. I won’t go on and spoil the twist they have in store, because I didn’t actually expect it, though maybe I should have according to some other, more snooty reviewers. Apart from the twist, there’s such a palpably eerie feeling that hovers like a fog over the last third of the film when Julia makes it to the little town where they discovered Samara’s bones are supposedly buried. This Gothic portion is another beautifully circular piece of the puzzle, as everything in the mythology of Samara seems to circle back in on itself.
I’ve also got to commend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Not that I have anything to compare this performance with, never having seen her act before, but she does good work here. Personally I love Naomi Watts, but Lutz does a far better job giving her character Julia depth, as opposed to a relatively flat performance from Watts in her role as Rachael (over two films no less). This girl Julia gets sucked into the world of the tape and Samara in whirlwind, in a much different situation than Rachael. Lutz’s is the best performance by far, a mixture of apprehension, fear, curiosity. This isn’t one of those run and scream roles, much more than that. And this young actress is someone I hope to see again soon.
RINGSDefinitely not for everyone, Rings will probably only appeal, or mostly, to die hard fans of the first remake. It honestly may not even appeal to Ringu fans, though you never can tell. Despite any of that I feel that Gutiérrez (who did a fantastic film just under a decade ago called Before the Fall) did interesting things as director, and he crafted the compelling new story into a moody, Gothic piece.
Sure, if you watched only the initial half of the film you might feel there isn’t much for this sequel to stand on. There are a couple intriguing things going for it. The real fun doesn’t start until a little ways in, when the mythology not only creeps into the contemporary world of technology but also goes back to the original and expands further. And even though I actually did not like the last few minutes when we’re revealed something that could’ve been suspected earlier, I do dig the very contemporary take on social media that’s offered in those final moments (you’ll understand more if you’ve actually seen the film).
So I’d recommend any non-jaded horror fans who are willing to stop being so judgemental constantly and ready to have fun, plus fans of The Ring and particularly its Gothic-ness, check out Rings. Have some fun. I know I did. I’m not ready for another sequel or anything, I’m just glad Gutiérrez injected life into a sequel I never asked for or knew I wanted.

Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is the Epitome of Wasted Potential

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. 2000. Directed by Joe Berlinger. Screenplay by Berlinger & Dick Beebe.
Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director, Lanny Flaherty, Lauren Husley, & Raynor Scheine.
Artisan Entertainment/Haxan Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

★★
posterYou’d almost expect Joe Berlinger to have done more with the concept for this sequel to Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s groundbreaking horror, The Blair Witch Project. By this point in 2000 he already did two of the HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, another great (and equally as tragic) doc called Brother’s Keeper. With the screenplay from him and co-writer Dick Beebe, I imagined Berlinger could spin his documentary style into an interesting sequel for the story Myrick and Sánchez began.
That’s not the case, unfortunately. I’m sure that even this movie has its fans, a cult following. But whereas other cult films feel justified in their love, often due to the project released at the wrong moment in time, Book of Shadows stinks not only of a cash grab, it’s also one majorly wasted opportunity.
Parts of what I feel Berlinger aimed at work. So much of it doesn’t, and falls into cheese; not even the good kind. You can watch this as a biting, murderous, supernatural satire re: diehard fans of the first film. Not well written. Although definitely, at least partly what Beebe and Berlinger tried to get across. It didn’t come too quickly after the original, that isn’t the reason this did poorly. Plain and simple, this falls well short of being a good movie. The dialogue is brutal, to the point of cringing in many a scene, then it gets far too expository to take seriously. If only the screenplay were tighter, the acting better, and most of all: if only it were found footage. That’s one of my biggest gripes. Beyond that Berlinger tried doing something that would’ve otherwise been good. Somehow he stumbled, fumbling just about every last drop of potential.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-21-48-amThere are a few genuinely unsettling images, I must admit. An early dream sees one of the women having a dream about drowning her unborn baby in a river, blood bubbling up from the water. It’s jarring because we enter the dream seamless, no indication, and then a nice smash cut out of this nightmarish image to see her lying in a tent. A great scene that always gets me.
These gnarly moments are few and far between.
One scene that particularly pisses me off is when the group first wake up to find all the paper essentially snowing down on them. I never judge people TOO much on the decisions they make because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie. But fuck, man. This one chaps my ass. When they’re rationally trying to figure out what’s gone on, they never once question WHY AND HOW THE HELL IS THE PAPER SNOWING DOWN ON US? It’s clearly dropping out of the sky, and they don’t make one reference to maybe looking in the trees to see if anyone is playing tricks on them, et cetera. I mean, I can forgive a lot of stupid stuff screenplay-wise in horror. I love the genre, though I know sometimes the writing isn’t perfect, even in movies I actually enjoy. This screenplay is chock full of garbage writing; glaring omission, poor and unbelievably character decisions, amongst more mistakes. Too bad because, as I mentioned, the concepts alive in the script die on the vine instead of blooming to make the sequel a worthy successor.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-26-41-amI can’t help but be mad at the writing. And I do know that, against his will, the studio shot some scenes to make this more a straight-forward horror, whatever the hell that means. So part of this isn’t totally Berlinger’s doing, regardless of his co-writing the script. Maybe one day we’ll get a version that shows us what Berlinger originally wanted, which would be nice. Either way, this version ends up with bad writing choices dominating everything.
So much wasted potential. Even down to Erica Leerhsen’s witch character and her worry about The Blair Witch Project reflecting negatively on actual witches, such as her and fellow Wiccans. This, along with the satirical eye towards die hard lovers of the first film insisting on the Blair Witch is real, wound up as fodder.
And that’s the frustrating part. Berlinger could’ve made this into a horror containing social commentary, satirising modern film culture, fanaticism, and other big ideas. Instead of following the first film with a powerhouse, this falls just about entirely flat. The original worked because of its reality angle, the rawness and the gritty qualities of the mainly improvised script. This one should have been capable of improving, and yet with a fully formed script this never comes close to achieving any of the goals it lays out theme-wise.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-32-14-amscreen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-41-22-amMaybe giving this two out of five stars is even too much. But there’s enough to keep me watching Book of Shadows, so I don’t feel too guilty; though a bit of guilt exists, all the same. Don’t get me wrong: this is a bad movie. Especially when you consider The Blair Witch Project and how great it was, in many ways. Berlinger deserves better, I’m sure there is a better cut of the movie somewhere in existence, or at least pieces of which that can be assembled into sequel worthy of what Sánchez and Myrick started.
A handful of scenes, or more so moments, does not a movie make. When I compare this with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s recent Blair Witch, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t, at all. This is a huge mess. It’s a good one to throw on when you’re bored, doing something else, or for a night when you want to watch something foolish with a group of friends. And if you’re all fans of the original, it’s even more fun to laugh as you watch.
Nevertheless, you might find a couple things that appeal to you. Or, maybe it’s a total trash bin. I don’t disagree, no matter how you feel. I’m going to rally behind anyone who wants to see a Berlinger-approved cut. Behind the mess a Book of Shadows worth the time and worth carrying the Blair Witch name may exist. If the latest entry in the series spawns a sequel, themes from this failed sequel would be exciting to revisit, if they were better written and more extensively explored. Here’s to hope!

There’s Twice the Psychosis WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

When A Stranger Calls Back. 1993. Directed & Written by Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Babs Chula, John Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jenn Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, & Kevin McNulty.
Krost-Chapin Productions/MCA Television Entertainment/Pacific Motion Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
poster1979’s When A Stranger Calls is a favourite of mine. There are far too many people who either don’t know it, or they don’t appreciate it enough. Tony Beckley’s performance as Curt Duncan, the titular stranger, is the stuff of pure nightmare. And somehow, 14 years later, Fred Walton’s sequel When A Stranger Calls Back nearly hits all the same eerie notes with a different story and some of the same characters.
Walton gets a bit wilder in this sequel, although just about every bit of it works. Charles Durning and Carol Kane return again as John Clifford and Jill Johnson respectively, each hardened and experienced due to their experiences with Duncan in the first film. In the position of Kane’s Jill this time around is Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz, a woman whose life becomes a horrorshow at the hands of a demented, relentless stalker.
The sequel goes for a more outlandish stalker. His psychosis is much stranger than that of Curt Duncan’s urge to kill. Some might find the stalker’s gimmick cheesy. Me, I find it terrifying.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-25-amMimicking the original, Walton starts off with a suspenseful opening sequence with Julia babysitting. However, he sets it apart from the first film by not opting for an outwardly foreboding, unnerving phone call. So much so that Walton’s actually taken the phone out of the picture by literally having it cut dead. This allows the sequel to tread its own ground rather than march straight through the original material all over again. It’s the same, yet isn’t, and the familiarity solely helps as a jumping off point for the tension. At one point Walton cuts back to shots of the doorknob, ratcheting that tension to a maximum. The viewer waiting on seat’s edge to see it turn, or move even in the tiniest way. This moment never comes. Sidestepping the payoff leaves Walton with unresolved tension, poised for a wicked crash once the perverse and threatening action of the titular stranger breaks loose.
When it gets genuinely disturbing is the second stalking. Like Duncan, this stranger comes back again after the first time. But what this guy does as opposed to Duncan is play a far more psychologically threatening game with Julia than Duncan did with Jill; not to say she didn’t suffer, but boy, this stalker is a doozy. Here, the stranger plays sick games to ingratiate himself with Julia, to put himself in her life, somehow in a twisted frame of mind. When you find out what he’s doing later in the film, it is a trip.


Having both Kane and Durning back brings with them credibility, as well as a degree of continuity instead of a sequel that feels like a cash in, put together to get a quick payday for everyone involved, maybe boost the sales of the original. This way, their characters make the story more interesting; there’s more depth, more at stake. Of course it works out well because Jill’s experience in When A Stranger Calls is sort of how we also saw Sydney Prescott in the Scream series eventually become a victim counsellor over the phone – she provides a unique perspective that plays into Julia’s predicament with her own stalker. While the stalker feels weirder in a spooky way, this sequel is less psychological horror – even though there’s plenty of that – and more a dark, emotional thriller full of mystery.
Still, Walton does play well with the psycho-horror of this screenplay. He makes Julia’s apartment into an ominous, paranoid location where each shadow means potential danger. With lingering shots and choice edits, the apartment is like a haunting character in and of itself, which lurks around the viewer, and of course Julia. Walton and cinematographer David Geddes (Legends of TomorrowHalloween: Resurrection) give the film a great look, especially considering this sequel is a TV movie after all.
There are quite a few spectacularly creepy moments and scenes. At one point, the stalker stands over Julia as she lies in a hospital bed – he slaps her over and over, and it’s so horrific because you can clearly see the psychotic behaviour brimming along the edges, past ready to break out fully. SPOILERS! SPOILERS AHEAD! When we get a look at the stranger in his element – a ventriloquist painted black, a dummy on his knee with no facial features – there’s a shocking element to this revelation. Suddenly you understand, all of it. Honestly, this scene starts out funny. Then gradually it becomes unbearable. Totally unsettling shit. Particularly once people start leaving, weirded out by this ventriloquist act, and the owner of the club all but kicks the hell out of the stranger, there’s a sad, pitiful aspect to this man. Sort of emotionally crushing because he’s obviously got issues. Although there’s no connection, no empathy for him – we’ve seen what he does. The final showdown between him, Jill, and Julia is crazy. Very fitting and just as intense. A legitimately frightening finish, at times as frightening as Curt Duncan from the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-57-amI’ll always love the original most, and I do feel that it is rightfully the better film. That being said, When A Stranger Calls Back is one of the more underrated sequels to a classic horror that, for whatever reason, never gets its due. That’s probably in part because this went out as a TV movie. Not sure why it ended up that way, because it has the makings of a genuine film and Walton follows his own footsteps lightly, treading carefully in most of the right places.
My only complaint is that I wish we were given a bit more insight into the stalker. We do get plenty later once everything kicks up a notch. But there easily could’ve been more. Perhaps that’s part of it being a TV movie. If we got a full fledged theatrical release movie from Walton on this sequel, there may have been changes in that department. We’ll never know.
Despite any small complaints, this Halloween you need to see When A Stranger Calls Back. This one gets a bit more disquieting simply for how it gets a bit more out of control with a stalking stranger even more unhinged than Curt Duncan; if you can believe it.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE; Or, A Nightmare of Repressed Sexuality

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. 1985. Directed by Jack Sholder. Screenplay by David Chaskin.
Starring Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Sydney Walsh, & Robert Englund.
New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★★
posterThe original A Nightmare on Elm Street always rocked me, from the first time I saw it to today. Lurking amongst dreams, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) always upset me because the way he haunts leaves people so defenceless. This sequel to the first film is usually deemed unworthy, that it goes against the rules set out in the original. Moreover, some just think it’s a bad movie. Not me. Before even trying to suss out any of the homosexual underlining in the screenplay this flick freaked me out. So what Freddy attacks people later in the film outside of dreams? So what? Did you watch the rest of the movie?
Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) denies his homosexuality to an oblivious extent. Having Freddy possess him, killing anybody that gets too close, is a symbol of this repressed sexuality. Literally, denying his sexuality is killing him. And others.
With a couple of my favourite Freddy scenes, apart from the first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is at once an allegory about the dangers of being forced to repress your sexuality, and also a fun mix of Freddy’s nightmare world with his newfound ability to literally possess those whose dreams he infects.
pic1pic2Following suit with the first, screenwriter David Chaskin begins the sequel with a nice dream sequence. Having a bus driver run off renegade with a few high school kids still in tow is horrifying enough. The fact Englund plays the driver, without the Krueger makeup at first, makes this scene much scarier. This is also, obviously, the first Krueger-infused nightmare. From there it’s a double-edged sword through Chaskin’s script. We get doses of Freddy along with the layout of Jesse as a character. He’s challenged constantly to be “masculine” – what society sees as masculinity, anyways – and at the same time the writing points out all sorts of homoeroticism in high school, the sort of stuff young men aren’t readily willing to admit. Jesse doesn’t play baseball as well as the other guys. He then gets pantsed by Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), which leads into a wrestling match. So, simultaneously the screenplay has all these instances of perceived masculinity where Jesse doesn’t match Grady specifically, then they’re rolling around, pressing bodies together, and things only get more overtly homoerotic from there. Later, Grady asks Jesse about Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), whether he’s “mounting her nightly,” and it’s suggested that if not there’s a problem. The way Jesse reacts suggests not that he doesn’t wish to divulge information, but that he’s afraid to admit not having sex with her; either because he can’t get there, or maybe doesn’t want to do that. Masculinity is played up amongst the high school males yet there’s this juxtaposed homoerotic undertone to so much of it. Perfectly written by Chaskin. To act outside the supposed norm is to be ostracised and ridiculed. So, Jesse, like a lot of gay men in the ’80s, is locked in the closet.
Everything gets cast in a slightly sexual light. Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) tells the boys to “assume the position” and wears them out with push-ups, lording over them. Then all the boys are forced to get in the shower after gym, something I always found strange about school. This means boys like Jesse are forced to get comfortable naked around peers of the same sex while likely struggling with their sexuality. Not to mention masculinity’s at stake if you don’t quite… measure up. The homosexual undertones of the story come out plenty with Coach Schneider, who frequents a leather bar and may just be a nasty paedophile, which is why he enjoys exerting power of the boys so much. His kill scene involves a creepy bit of S&M.
pic1Many instances of powerful horror imagery. The Schneider sequence after Jesse meets him in the leather bar is especially eerie. School at night is spooky, even when I was young and going to a school dance it always unnerved me. Seeing Jesse start his lap, he and Schneider all alone together, is spooky. Almost drenched in fog. The wide angle makes the gymnasium feel particularly stark. We follow Jesse around the gym until seeing Schneider again, sort of like Jesse runs to him; an act of power for the coach like when he takes pleasure in working the young boys during school.
Throughout the franchise, little girls skipping rope crop up. Over and over. One of the more creepy images to me, as it invokes Krueger’s past. Added to that, little kids in horror work well when used correctly. How we see the skipping girl show up here is amazingly executed. Jesse walks into a room, we see his face and the rope flipping around before actually seeing the girl. She repeats the famous nursery rhyme. Great, haunting scene.
Maybe the greatest of any scene outside the original is when Jesse goes to Grady, in a strange mood after having ran off from Lisa when they decide to make out. Slowly, Freddy starts emerging from inside Jesse; literally. The blades squeeze out of his nails, his arm becomes the infamous red and green shirt, an eye peers from far back inside Jesse’s throat. Then he slices his own chest to let Freddy out. Gruesome, excellent effects, gorgeously disturbing. Another unnerving moment is when Lisa is going to find Freddy’s hideout, she passes two human-faced dogs. They’re like the hounds guarding the entrance to hell, Freddy style. These are the two scenes I find best on the practical effects and terror.
In terms of the embedded homoerotic content, the famous dance scene is one perfect symbol in the dark. This is the only single time we see Jesse being himself. Every other scene he’s either only comfortable when around Lisa, or we find him uncomfortably trying to fit in with the other guys in high school posturing themselves as masculine creatures. Here, by himself, Jesse gyrates, he sings into a microphone and then strokes it like a phallus, he dances on the bed moving his body like a woman might. In these moments there is a hidden sexuality in how he moves, yearning to come out. The scene feels off to many, misplaced, like it belongs in a goofy teen comedy. I beg to differ.
pic2pic3I love this movie! It isn’t perfect, it has flaws. But the big mistake people seem to make concerning its plot is they bash it for not following Craven’s rules from the original. Fair enough. Only if you look closer, there’s reasoning to it. Freddy is only able to actually enter the real world after he finds the path of least resistance. Early on, he haunts Jesse in dreams. Not long later he explodes the bird, he starts seeping into reality. It’s only after he’s killed the true object of Jesse’s affection – Grady – that Freddy is allowed power enough to enter the world in full form. Freddy breaking through Jesse’s skin literally is the allegory, boiled down to metaphor, concerning how dangerous denying one’s sexuality can be ultimately.
This is a 4-star bit of horror. The ’80s were a heyday for the genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge gets unfairly lumped into the worst of the decade. My feeling is that, upon retrospect, this sequel needs a revisit, by many. During Halloween season, pop in the original then follow up with this one. They’re very different, and still serve much of the same purpose. After awhile, it isn’t scary to me that Freddy is in dreams. He has to get bigger, scarier. Later in New Nightmare, through metafiction, Freddy becomes more a part of the real world. People loved that one. My guess is most don’t understand, or dig, the homosexual subtext (a.k.a totally out in the open for anyone not blind) and therefore the rest of the film falls flat. If you look at it the right way, Freddy’s Revenge is more Jesse’s Dangerous Repression. If you can see it in that sense, you may get into it differently.

One of Horror’s Most Underappreciated Sequels – AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION

Amityville II: The Possession. 1982. Directed by Damiano Damiani. Screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace; based on the book by Hans Holzer.
Starring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Pine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Ted Ross, Erika Katz, Brent Katz, & Leonardo Cimino. Dino De Laurentiis Company/Media Transactions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
posterNot sure why certain horror sequels aren’t appreciated as much as others. It’s a strange phenomenon that doesn’t always happen to crime or drama movies when sequels come out. Many people love The Godfather Part II above the original, which is fair; I do, too. Other people loved Die Hard so much that Die Hard 2, despite its many shortcomings, thrilled them to no end. Yet horror fans seem much more reluctant about which sequels they approve of, which ones they think are trash. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I love movies such as Exorcist II: The Heretic (in no way better than the original Friedkin – still an awesome, unfairly judged sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (an unheralded sequel that doesn’t beat its predecessor and still manages to do great things in retrospect), and yes, Amityville II: The Possession.
Where those other two horror sequels were good but failed to outdo the originals, I feel Amityville II beats the first on all counts. You heard me.
Why is that? Well, there are a lot of reasons. You can never tell for sure if the sequel is really a sequel; it can almost act like a prequel. Of course it’s a sequel. Just fun that there’s a lot of interesting parallels with this film and the actual story of Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr’s, the man whose vicious crimes against his family inspired The Amityville Horror. Then there’s the sheer terror of the plot, a much darker vision of a family torn apart by supernatural forces than the first could ever have hoped to become. Part of the big reason why this movie does so well is that Tommy Lee Wallace wrote the script. There are those who might not agree with me, however, Wallace hasn’t been given the credit he’s due over the years. He did a handful of things that weren’t so great. But Halloween III: Season of the Witch (he wrote/directed) and It (directed both parts; wrote second part) are classics, to my mind. His work here has gone largely unnoticed except for a small group of fans worldwide. He manages to take the scariness of the series in an appropriately disturbing direction, perhaps why so many refuse to recognise the film’s greatness. Regardless, Wallace creates a much more penetrating nightmare than the original with uncredited screenplay help from Dardano Sacchetti (too many movies to list) and wonderful cinematography from Franco Di Giacomo.
If you haven’t seen this yet: do it now. If you’ve seen it and forget its greatness, it’s time to revisit.
pic1Quickly you’ll find the camera work is more inventive and fluid than the first film, as well as the fact it helps put you in a very different psychological perspective. Almost like we start to see from the point-of-view of the house, or the ghosts and demons lurking within its walls. For instance, early on when the mother is in the basement and has one of the men look in the crawlspace, a tracking shot comes out of the hole in the wall and sneaks behind her. She tells her son moments later: “Somebodytouched me.” Di Giacomo and Wallace utilise this shot to great effect. In another film we’d see the mother walking away from the crawlspace, a ghostly apparition behind her reaching to touch the shoulder, and then cut to NOTHING behind her. Instead, this makes us feel as if we’re seeing what the ghosts (or demons or whatever) are seeing. It’s a visceral shot, placing us in the ghostly perspective. This reoccurs over and over. Not repetitively, but to amplify this effect.
There’s a moment when this ends, and we then witness things normally, as Sonny Montelli (Jack Magner) is possessed. The camera techniques change, though still effective. Moreover, the narrative changes and we’re dragged through a disturbing story that decidedly overshadows the first film.
Whereas The Amityville Horror focused on George Lutz (James Brolin), his normal family, and his later complete mental breakdown at the hands of the house, Sonny’s possession comes from a darker place. The Montelli family are a troubled bunch already. Before we ever see Anthony Montelli (an excellently rough performance from legendary Burt Young) lay a finger on anybody, a bit of dialogue tunes us into his abusiveness. From there on the abusive father figure in him comes out, terribly at times. It gets worse, too. Apparently a couple scenes that had to be cut include one where Anthony forces himself on his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda), to a graphic extent. What’s left in the film includes dialogue behind closed doors, suggestions from daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin). Once the house starts possessing Sonny, on top of making most of the family look crazy to the violent patriarch, everything gets really evil. Sonny seduces his own sister into incest, and then later murders every last one of them with a rifle; exactly like Butch DeFeo did. The original depicted an otherwise loving family man, a stepfather taking in his wife’s children as if he were their own, becoming a sinister, abusive person. The sequel taps into something more ugly, in the right kind of way for good horror, by way of the already fractured family. A large reason for this being better than the first.
pic3The big changeover scene where the possession fully takes place, crossing us over from the point-of-view tracking shots to a more steadily framed view of the horror – is what I call “the stomach scene”: we watch as the camera zooms in and out on Sonny’s body, mostly his stomach, as he sweats and screams and moans while the demonic spirit enters him. It’s a – pardon this pun – gut wrenching scene. Magner sells it totally, which is amazing considering that his only other film is the Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. But Magner, the camera technique, really takes you into his physical transformation. I also consider part of this sequel body horror. Reason being, Sonny experiences a physical shift, his skin often fattens up, getting lumpy, or getting more emaciated. The process of possession, naturally, wouldn’t be such a breeze as all of a sudden there’s a demon inside you, some ghost inhabiting your flesh. Sonny goes through a terrifyingly nasty transformation before our eyes. This culminates in an amazing scene near the end where we actually see the demon in him for a moment, breaking through the skin to emerge in all its sticky, gruesome glory. There are a number of moments where the body horror element takes hold. Each worth the time to pause on, as even the makeup is bang on.
Some other favourite moments –
When Patricia figures out her brother, or whatever’s inside him, only seduced her for the evil of the act, it’s a heartbreaking moment. Because incest is awful, first of all. Secondly, she admits to Sonny that their time together didn’t make her feel bad; she genuinely feels love for him, no matter if it’s an awfully wrong thing to do. Still, to see her shamefully admit to all that with the priest, the fact she understands Sonny(/the demon) only does it to “hurt God” is crushing.
One of the best tracking shots in the demonic POV is when it goes through the quiet house and sees a crucifix hanging on the wall. The demon makes strange noises, groaning, then tosses a sheet over the crucifix to hide it. A brilliant, brief scene that I always have to replay a couple times. It’s eerie, as well as kind of darkly humorous.
The priest flicking the aspergillum, both he and Patricia seeing it as thick bloody being sprinkled all over the bedroom, is an awesome horror movie moment. Both for the blood flying everywhere and the fact of the double hallucination. Very cool.
pic2For me, Amityville II: The Possession is a classic of the horror genre. Totally underrated, underappreciated. You don’t have to think it’s the greatest, there are still mistakes or things Wallace could have made better. I can’t discount what’s he done with this sequel, though. He outdoes the original, adds a bit of backstory (we get short mentions of a supposed witch expelled from Salem who built the house over an ancient Indian burial ground; an element reused in the original’s 2005 remake). His story of the family is beyond disturbing material, in a way that makes for a compelling supernatural-leaning plot. Finally, the camera work and the way it plays into the psychological terror is perfect; the one aspect of the film I find untouchable.
Maybe you don’t feel the same way. Nothing wrong with that, either. I only urge people to reconsider, watch the film again. This time you might just discover something that you didn’t the first time you saw it. I suggest a double bill of this and the original, compare them. This is the better movie, by a long shot. Dig in. There’s lots of horror here for a dark October night leading up to Halloween.