IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)

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Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT we visit THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), Roger Corman’s sixth Edgar Allan Poe adaptation.

Technically, it isn’t a Poe adaptation, since after making five horror movies in three years based on Edgar Allan Poe works, Corman wanted a break and chose as his source material for his next movie, the story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft. However, American-International felt a Poe connection was needed, and so they tacked on an Edgar Allan Poe poem title “The Haunted Palace” to the film, which is mostly, if not completely, based on the Lovecraft story.

THE HAUNTED PALACE once again stars Vincent Price, who starred in most of Corman’s earlier Poe films, and he was joined by a rather interesting co-star: Lon Chaney Jr! This would mark the second and last time these two horror icons would appear together in the same movie, although the first time, in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), hardly counts, as Vincent Price only “appears” in the final seconds of the film as the Invisible Man. In THE HAUNTED PALACE, both Price and Chaney have ample screen time and share lots of scenes together.

THE HAUNTED PALACE opens with a prologue that shows the angry villagers storming the mansion of Joseph Curwan (Vincent Price) who they not only accuse of witchcraft, but they also drag him out of his home and burn him at the stake, but not before he curses the town and their descendants. The story then jumps ahead 100 plus years, and we see Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) arrive at the home of his ancestor Joseph Curwan, along with his wife Ann (Debra Paget) to start a new life together.

Not so fast Mr. Ward!

See, the villagers who live there, including Edgar Weeden (Leo Gordon) and Peter Smith (Elisha Cook, Jr.), have not forgotten the curse placed on them by Joseph Curwan and want no part of his descendant returning home! It doesn’t help that Charles is a dead ringer for Joseph, but to that end, I would tell these folks to go look in the mirror, because all of them are dead ringers for their ancestors as well! See, that’s what happens when the same actors play ancestors and descendants. Not exactly the most creative way to cast a story!

Anyway, the one townsperson who is sympathetic to Charles and his wife is Dr. Marinus Willet (Frank Maxwell), but even he warns them about staying, since the townsfolk could make things mighty difficult for them. Inside the mansion, they meet the caretaker Simone Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.), and since he’s played by Lon Chaney Jr., you know he’s going to be something more than just an ordinary caretaker.

No, he’s not secretly the Wolf Man!

But he is secretly an old friend of Joseph Curwen, and he introduces Charles to a portrait of Joseph, and when he does, the spirit of Joseph enters Charles’ body. Together, they begin to work on fulfilling the plan they started 150 years earlier, involving the book, the Necronomicon, and the conjuring of a demon-like beast from the depths below. Their work is slowed by the fact that Joseph can’t remain inside Charles’ body for long, which allows Vincent Price the chance to basically play two different roles, almost a Jekyll and Hyde variation.

This back and forth continues, with Joseph gaining more power each time he enters Charles’ body, and the final part of the plan involves sacrificing Ann to the demon creature. Unless, that is, Charles can break through and save his wife!

THE HAUNTED PALACE is one of the livelier Roger Corman Poe films. His earlier works, like HOUSE OF USHER (1960) and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) were very claustrophobic, with the bulk of the action taking place inside the castle walls, whereas here in THE HAUNTED PALACE equal time is spent in the village as well, and the whole feel of this one is more melodramatic and freewheeling.

I also absolutely love the music score here by Ronald Stein. It’s a powerful score and my favorite of the Roger Corman Poe movies. Stein scored many genre films from the 1950s-60s, including DINOSAURUS! (1960), a laughable but likeable dinosaur-on-the-loose movie by Universal in which Stein’s serious score is also a highlight.

As he always does, Vincent Price chews up the scenery here as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen. Price’s persona dominates these movies. Sometimes he’s the character who’s tortured by the evil within him, and other times, he’s the character who seems to take such glee and enjoyment in being evil. He gets to be both in this movie. In the Roger Corman movies, Price’s most intriguing performances probably came in the next two movies in the series, which would be the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). But he’s awfully entertaining here as Charles Dexter Ward and his nefarious ancestor!

Lon Chaney Jr. is creepy and fun as Simon, the caretaker with the sinister secret and agenda. There’s one shot framed by Corman in which Chaney appears from the shadows to frighten Ann, and he’s completely backlit, which means you only see the frame of his body and not his face, and with a little imagination, you can almost see the Wolf Man standing there in the dark corridor! Sadly, since he was dealing with health issues mostly due to heavy drinking, Chaney looks pretty awful in this movie. Of course, he was also made up to look rather sinister, but still, he looks about 10-15 years older than Price in this movie, when in reality he was only five years older, with Chaney being 58 at the time, and Price 53.

THE HAUNTED PALACE also has a great supporting cast. Leo Gordon was one of the great screen heavies, playing villainous roles in numerous westerns. I always remember him as the baddie Cass in THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966). If you’re going to start a mob in a horror movie, Leo Gordon is the guy you want leading it!

Elisha Cook Jr., a terrific character actor going all the way back to THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), where he was famously humiliated and slapped around by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Cook appeared in several genre movies, including HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), which also starred Vincent Price, and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972). Here, he plays a frightened villager who’s basically a yes-man to Leo Gordon’s character.

You also have Debra Paget and Frank Maxwell.

The screenplay by Charles Beaumont based on the Lovecraft story, and a little bit on the Poe poem, hits all the right notes and makes for a decent plot.

Roger Corman, who at 96 is still with us, keeps this one a bit more energetic than his other Poe outings. One part, however, that doesn’t work, is the storyline about the cursed townsfolk’s offspring, many of whom are “mutants.” The story is fine, but the make-up is rather ludicrous. It looks like someone stuck silly putty over their eyes. Here you go. Just add this silly putty here, and now you look like mutants with no eyes! Er…, no!

Other than this little hiccup, THE HAUNTED PALACE is worthwhile viewing, especially around Halloween time. It’s hard to find someone having more fun being evil in a horror movie than Vincent Price, and his talents are on full display here. Add a little menacing Lon Chaney Jr. and it gets even better! Why, there’s even a sinister final shot in the movie for good measure!

THE HAUNTED PALACE isn’t one of the more famous Roger Corman Poe movies– heck, technically it’s not even a Poe movie but a Lovecraft one— but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun!

Looking for a place to stay this Halloween? Try THE HAUNTED PALACE. Just don’t stare at the paintings for too long. I hear they have a knack for… getting under your skin!

Happy Halloween!

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MONSTROUS (2022) – More Mournful Drama Than Monster Movie

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MONSTROUS (2022), a new horror movie starring Christina Ricci as a woman fleeing with her young son from her abusive husband and looking for a fresh start in a new home in a new town, has the advantage of taking place in the 1950s, not something you see every day in a horror movie.

But it also has the disadvantage of a plot twist, the likes of which audiences have seen all too often before.

The result is a slow burn horror film that takes its time laying out its story, a process that in its 1950s setting is generally interesting, but what it ultimately does with this story isn’t all that exciting or horrifying. In fact, the prevalent emotion throughout this movie isn’t horror but sadness, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s simply not enough to make this movie an effective horror film.

In MONSTROUS, Laura (Christina Ricci) and her young son Cody (Santino Barnard) relocate to a new California town, far away from her husband and Cody’s father. They set up shop in a farmhouse run by the pleasant Mr. Langtree (Don Durrell) and his cantankerous wife Mrs. Langtree (Colleen Camp). Laura enrolls Cody in a new school, and she starts a new job, all in the hope of starting a new life together and moving on from the life she had before with her husband, and with its brightly lit nostalgic 1950s cinematography, it seems like everything should be hunky-dory.

But such is not the case. And that’s because there is a monster in the pond in back of the farmhouse, a monster that emerges from the water and creeps into Cody’s bedroom. At first, when Laura is watching a black and white horror movie on TV also about a monster emerging from the water, the feeling is that perhaps MONSTROUS is going to be a creature feature type horror movie, but when Cody tells his mom that the monster isn’t really a monster, but a pretty lady, and that she’s talking to him, and he’s not afraid anymore, the film takes a different direction.

For most of the movie, the monster serves as a metaphor for the challenges and pain Laura experiences as she tries to raise her son on her own, dealing with his problems at school, stress at her job, and at home trying to deal with what seems to her to be a demon or spirit haunting their house, as well as her son’s changing personality. As I said earlier, there is a mood of sadness permeating the proceedings, and for most of this movie, I was reminded of another similar and better made tale, THE BABADOOK (2014). A lot of what happens in MONSTROUS is derivative of THE BABADOOK.

Carol Chrest’s screenplay works for most of the movie. I was definitely intrigued by the premise, and I was enjoying its 1950s setting, but the plot twist doesn’t do it any favors. It’s not awful. It’s just not very original. And there are enough hints throughout the movie for the audience to have a pretty good idea as to what is really happening.

I did like where the story finally goes, as it’s a touching emotional conclusion to a somber sad story. That being said, what comes before it doesn’t always make sense. In other words, l liked the conclusion, but the story of the monster and how the characters reach this point, didn’t completely work for me. The biggest question I have is, when you finally know the big reveal, why was it a monster in the first place?

Chris Sivertson’s direction is interesting. The brightly lit 1950s sequences work well, but the horror elements are few and far between. The film really isn’t scary. And without giving much away, the feel of this movie and the sense one has while watching it, is it definitely has a similar vibe as the Marvel TV show WANDAVISION (2021). You’re watching this “ideal 1950s world” and you just have that feeling in your gut that there’s something not right here. There’s also the TV commercial which plays nonstop nearly every time Carol turns on the TV, about a brand-new dishwasher— cleaning has never been easier, and water, water, water.

Water is everywhere here. Lots of hints. And the payoff works to an extent, but makes you question all that came before it.

Christina Ricci is fine as Laura, the mom who is fighting a losing battle in her attempts to raise her son on her own, and this in and of itself is sad to watch. Her life is a challenge even without a monster. And young Santino Barnard does what he has to do as Laura’s son Cody, acting sad, scared, and ultimately creepy weird. He does get the best scene in the movie, along with Ricci, when the two make peace with their situation, and Cody makes one final request of his mom. It’s an emotional moment, and the movie could have used more moments like this.

MONSTROUS really isn’t much of a horror movie, but it is a somewhat diverting drama with supernatural undertones that were enough to hold my interest for most of this slow burn chiller’s 90-minute running time.

It’s not the monster that’s monstrous here, but the hand with which life has dealt Carol. Seen through this prism, MONSTROUS is more mournful drama than monster movie.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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You can’t ask for a better looking horror movie than CRIMSON PEAK (2015), Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric ghost story flick.

Set in the early 20th century in both New York and later England, the sets, colors, costumes, and general look of the film have Hammer Films written all of them. Plus Tom Hiddleston in his period piece get-up does resemble Peter Cushing at times. And the lead character played by Mia Wasikowska is named Edith Cushing. Hmm… Okay, so, sure I’m a Hammer Film fan, but I certainly was thinking about Hammer Films while watching this one.

That being said, CRIMSON PEAK wouldn’t be a particularly very good Hammer Film, and that’s because as good as this one looks, it’s just not as impressive at telling its story. I saw CRIMSON PEAK at the movies upon its initial release and was cool to it then, and upon watching it again for the purposes of this review, I still am not that crazy about it.

The biggest reason is the story it tells doesn’t really wow me all that much. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) had a horrifying experience as a child with the ghost of her deceased mother. As an adult, Edith is an aspiring author living in Buffalo, New York, when she crosses paths with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). The Sharpes have a business proposition for Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver), who is immediately troubled by the pair and doesn’t trust them, and so he turns down their proposal. Edith, however, is swept off her feet by Thomas and agrees to marry him, much to the chagrin of her good friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) who has been trying and failing to get Edith to date him.

Carter Cushing is then mysteriously and brutally murdered, but this doesn’t stop Edith from marrying Thomas and returning to England with him and Lucille to live in their haunted…. er, ancestral mansion. Once there, Edith once again begins to have strange encounters with overactive ghosts, and as it turns out, these encounters are the least of her problems.

The story told in CRIMSON PEAK is simply meh. I never bought into Edith’s plight, partly because Mia Wasikowska’s performance here never won me over. The skinny of it is Edith never comes to life for me as a character. So, that’s a major reason why this movie doesn’t work for me.

I also didn’t enjoy the love story between Edith and Thomas. They have about as much chemistry together as two adjacent floor boards. The ghost story I could see coming a mile away, and the sinister plot involving Thomas and his sister Lucille fell flat for me as well.

Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins’ screenplay goes through the motions but never evokes emotions.

Tom Hiddleston delivers the best performance in the movie as Thomas Sharpe. He at least brings his character to life and when he expresses his true feelings towards Edith he’s believable. Second to Hiddleston is Jim Beaver in a supporting role as Edith’s father Carter. He brings a strength and edge to the role, and his scenes are the most authentic in the movie, so it’s too bad he’s killed off midway through.

As I said, Mia Wasikowska never won me over as Edith. I just never believed her character was real. Jessica Chastain is pretty much one note as Lucille Sharpe— icy cold. And Charlie Hunnam, as enjoyable as he can be at times, also tends to be a one-note actor. Here, as Dr. Alan McMichael, he’s the noble best friend who will even travel to England to save the woman he secretly loves. Hunnam is fairly good, but you certainly don’t feel any real passion from the guy.

Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of Guillermo del Toro. Visually, you can’t go wrong with his movies. They are always treats for the eyes. But his stories tend to need help. Even his much celebrated and Oscar-winning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) didn’t completely work for me. I much prefer his HELLBOY movies.

If you’re a fan of del Toro, you will enjoy CRIMSON PEAK. For the rest of us, it looks great, calls to mind the gothic horror films of both Hammer Films and Roger Corman’s 1960s Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe movies, but as a horror story, it goes through the motions but never strikes a chord.

CRIMSON PEAK colors but never peaks.

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RELIC (2020) – Thinking Person’s Haunted House Movie

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Relic

RELIC (2020) is the thinking person’s haunted house movie.

Its tale of a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter is on one level a story of a house possessed, but on a deeper more figurative level it’s about dementia personified.

When Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive at Kay’s mother’s house to check in on her, they discover that she’s not there. Kay informs the police and tells them that her mother is in her 80s and does tend to forget things sometimes and is easily confused. A search party covers the surrounding woods without success.

But then Kay’s mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) suddenly is back inside the house, and every time Kay asks where she’s been, she changes the subject. Worried that her mom shouldn’t be living alone, Kay looks into elderly home options. Meanwhile, she and Sam stay on to keep an eye on Edna for a while.

Edna complains that there is someone else in the house, and while Kay initially dismisses this assertion as early dementia, things start happening which convince Kay and Sam otherwise.

RELIC is a slow-burn horror movie that scores high on the creepy meter. There are quiet eerie scenes throughout, and for me, this was the best part of this movie.

Sure, it’s a deeper screenplay than most, as written by director Natalie Erika James and Christian White. Its take on dementia is spot-on, and the doubt which Kay and Sam have towards Edna’s fears is believable and normal. So, when later they begin to see things differently, it makes for a scary transition.

Plus, the direction this story ultimately takes is so much better than grandmother really was seeing a ghost! It takes the figurative theme of how we lose everything including ourselves as we age and makes it literal.

RELIC is Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut and it’s an impressive one. The film is creepy throughout, and its ending is sad and horrifying at the same time. You might find yourself having to turn away from the screen.

On the other hand, it is very slow, and so for some viewers they may find themselves bored, but if you’re patient, there is a decent payoff.

The film is reminiscent of THE BABADOOK (2014) in terms of tone and feel.

The three principal actors are all very good. Emily Mortimer makes Kay the detached and often guilt-ridden daughter who kept away from her mother for so long and now towards the end is trying to make things right, although it doesn’t feel that way to her as she looks to put her mother into a home.

Bella Heathcote plays Sam as the devoted granddaughter who is much more enthusiastic about wanting to stay and help her grandmother around the house. And so it is far more upsetting for Sam when her grandmother begins to act in ways that make wanting to stay in the house all rather unpleasant.

And Robyn Nevin delivers the best performance in the movie as Edna, perfectly capturing what it’s like to live with dementia, as her personality switches on a dime. And she has one icy cold stare, that’s for sure!

I liked RELIC. It’s a quiet horror movie that is best watched on a quiet night with the lights out.

Preferably without your grandmother around!

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THE TURNING (2020) – Atmospheric Ghost Story Ruined By Quick Ending

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Finn Wolfhard, Brooklyn Prince, and Mackenzie Davis in THE TURNING (2020)

What a shame.

For most of its 94 minute running time, THE TURNING (2020) is an atmospheric and somewhat compelling horror movie, forever on the cusp of breaking into a full-fledged ghost story, but this doesn’t happen, because the movie is done in by a terribly abrupt ending that occurs so quickly if you look down to grab that last kernel of popcorn you’ll miss it. And when you look back up you’ll be watching the end credits.

THE TURNING is based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and it tells a modernized version of the story. Sort of. The events in the movie take place in 1994, though I’m not sure why. The movie doesn’t explain the significance of the film taking place in the 1990s, other than it removes cell phones from the equation which would have allowed the main character to feel less isolated, perhaps.

Anyway, the story in THE TURNING follows young school teacher Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) who accepts a position as a nanny/governess/tutor for a young girl Flora (Brooklyn Prince) who recently lost her parents. Flora lives in a huge mansion in Maine along with her older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) and their lifelong family servant Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten).

While Flora warms up to Kate immediately, the same can’t be said for Mrs. Grose or Miles. Mrs. Grose constantly reminds Kate that the children have been born into privilege, and she continually scuttles Kate’s attempts to make the children more responsible. Miles has been expelled from his boarding school for physically attacking another student, and so Kate eyes him with suspicion, which only grows when he makes weird, aggressive and threatening remarks to her, and when she finds him in her bedroom watching her sleep.

As things grow more uncomfortable, and Kate finds herself feeling more threatened and less in control, the element of the supernatural comes in when she begins to receive messages from what she perceives to be the ghost of the previous nanny. Furthermore, there is another more belligerent spirit on the premises, one that is actively interested in doing her harm.

What’s a nanny to do? How about this: get out of the house!!!

Nah. That would make too much sense.

There’s also another part of the story that is terribly underplayed. Kate’s mother seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, which is never clearly defined, and there are hints that it’s possible that Kate suffers from the same malady, which would add the element to the plot of whether the supernatural occurrences were all in her head. And the way this movie ends, the implication seems to be that this is what the filmmakers were going for. However, it’s not developed at all, and so this part of the story, while having some potential, doesn’t really come to fruition.

Neither does the movie as a whole.

Director Floria Sigismondi takes full advantage of both the creepy interior of the mansion and the haunting exterior of the surrounding gardens on the estate. In terms of atmosphere, THE TURNING has plenty of it, and for the most part, this is what kept me into the film. It looks good and there’s an unsettling feeling which permeates most of the narrative.

THE TURNING also features effective acting performances by its three leads. I really enjoyed Mackenzie Davis as new nanny Kate Mandell. She’s a strong young woman, but both Miles and the supernatural occurrences get inside her head to the point where she’s slowly tortured and really begins to doubt herself. Davis successfully captures the journey the character takes down the road of darkness. Davis has enjoyed a slew of prominent roles recently, in films like TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019), TULLY (2018) and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). I’ve enjoyed her in all these movies, and here in THE TURNING she’s playing a much more vulnerable character than she’s played previously.

Young Brooklyn Prince who was so memorable in THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) is equally as good here as Flora.

But the performance of the movie for me belongs to Finn Wolfhard from STRANGER THINGS fame. As Miles, Wolfhard delivers an unsettling performance which gets under the audience’s skin just as he gets under Kate’s. And it’s understated. It’s not full-fledged teen creepy by any means. He goes back and forth between sinister and innocent, between “I’m going to attack you in your sleep” to “I’m really trying to deal with my own personal demons.” Wolfhard was also very good in the two recent IT movies, but I enjoyed him even more here.

So, even though this one is getting deplorable reviews, for me, with the atmosphere and the acting performances, I was enjoying it. It was holding my interest for nearly two thirds of the way in, and even as it built to a climax, it still was better than critics were giving it credit for, but alas, it’s all for naught, because the ending is a disaster.

Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes wrote the screenplay, and these are the same folks who wrote THE CONJURING (2013) one of the better horror movies of the past ten years. Here, they do a good job telling the main story of the dynamic between Kate and the children, but stumble once the supernatural elements enter the tale. And that’s because it’s around this time that I started wondering if this was real or inside Kate’s head? And the film doesn’t address this.

And the ending only adds to the confusion, because it definitely implies a connection between what was happening and Kate’s mother’s condition. But it does it in such a quick abrupt way that it doesn’t work.

It’s so quick it feels as if the filmmakers just ran out of money and forgot to add the last scene. It’s one of the weakest endings I’ve seen to a movie in a long time, which is too bad, because what came before it, wasn’t as bad as some folks are saying.

That being said, taken as a whole, I can’t really recommend THE TURNING. In spite of the promise it holds throughout, it just doesn’t— turn out that well.

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) – Not Much of a Homecoming

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Look out behind you!  That’s Madison Iseman, Katie Sarifie, Annabelle, and McKenna Grace in a scene from ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019).

Couldn’t she just stay away?

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) is the third film in the ANNABELLE series, a series that is part of the CONJURING universe, and I have to say that the longer this series and films in this universe continue the less I like these movies.

Creepy dolls are a thing. I get that. And the Annabelle doll, which first showed up in the original THE CONJURING (2013), is a really frightening looking doll. It’s a shame that writers struggle so much to come up with good stories about it.

After that brief appearance in THE CONJURING, the film that spawned this cinematic universe and the one that remains the best in the entire series, the powers that be decided Annabelle needed a movie of her own. That film was ANNABELLE (2014) and it was pretty bad. Still, it was followed by a sequel— actually a prequel— entitled ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017), and this one was actually pretty good. In fact, I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION quite a bit.

Now we have ANNABELLE COMES HOME, which takes place after ANNABELLE: CREATION and ANNABELLE but before THE CONJURING.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME begins when our friendly neighborhood demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) first confiscate the Annabelle doll from its frightened owners and agree to take it off their hands and keep it safe in the protective confines of the basement of their home, where they store all the other demonic stuff they’ve collected over the years. This is a line of thinking from these movies that I’ve never understood. I get the idea of keeping all these evil things in one place, to prevent them from harming the world, sort of a supernatural prison, if you will, but inside their own home? Wouldn’t it make more sense to amass this stuff as far away from one’s home as possible? Like maybe inside a place with concrete walls and lots of locks? But nope, they keep their evil collection locked behind a closed door in their house, which opens the door, eh hem, for the kind of devilry that happens in this movie.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people, by the way, not fictional characters, most famous for their investigation of the Amityville house. Ed passed away in 2006 and Lorraine just recently passed in April 2019. In fact, ANNABELLE COMES HOME is dedicated to Lorraine Warren.

Getting back to the movie, Ed and Lorraine leave their ten year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) while they go out, ostensibly to investigate the house in the original THE CONJURING, since the action in this film takes place just before the events in that first movie.

Mary Ellen is quite responsible, but her friend Daniela (Katie Sarifie) is not, and since she blames herself for her father’s death, since he died in a car crash while she was at the wheel, she longs to make some sort of supernatural contact with her dad. So, she invites herself over to the Warren house and sneaks into the secret room and in the process of snooping around, accidentally lets the Annabelle doll out of its glass case.

Oops!

Annabelle, now free, decides to make life a living hell for the three girls and unleashes all sorts of nasty demons and spirits to wreak havoc inside and outside the home, all in the hope of stealing a soul so that the demon within Annabelle can possess a body rather than a doll.

That in a nutshell is the plot of ANNABELLE COMES HOME, and as stories go, it’s not bad. I was certainly into it. That being said, I wasn’t into it for long because the writing and directing just weren’t up to the task of delivering a satisfying horror tale about Annabelle.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME was written and directed by Gary Dauberman, and although this was his directorial debut, he has plenty of writing credits. Dauberman has written all three Annabelle movies as well as THE NUN (2018), another film in the CONJURING universe and another film I did not like. Dauberman is also one of the writers who’s been working on the IT movies, based on Stephen King’s novel.

Here, I had a couple of issues with the writing. The first is with dialogue. At times, the dialogue is flat-out awful, and most of these instances involve scenes with Ed and Lorraine Warren. When they speak of demons and spirits, I just want to break out laughing. Their lines come off as phony and formulaic. The dialogue with Judy and her babysitters is much better.

Also, the story itself has a weird construct. The film opens with Ed and Lorraine obtaining the Annabelle doll, and as they make provisions for its safe keeping, it seems as if they will be the main characters in this movie. But then they disappear for the rest of the film, only returning for a ridiculous happy ending where for some reason time is spent showing Judy’s birthday party, as if that’s a key plot point in this story. I’m sorry. Was this called ANNABELLE COMES HOME SO SHE CAN ATTEND JUDY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY?

Which brings me to next problem: pacing. This film is paced terribly. The story has multiple threats attacking simultaneously, but rather than run with it and build to an absolutely frenetic climax, the story seems to want no part of this. Every time something happens, and a character seems pinned by a demon or spirit, the story switches to another character, and we follow them, while the previous character simply disappears for a while. There is no sense of building suspense at all.

For me, during the film’s second half when things should have been frightening, I was bored. And then to make matters worse, at the end, we go to a birthday party for ten minutes. So don’t forget to wear your party hat!

In spite of all this, some of the acting is pretty darned good.  Young McKenna Grace turns in the best performance as ten year-old Judy. It’s her first time playing Judy, as the character was played by Sterling Jerins in the first two CONJURING movies. Grace is very good at being the kid who’s wise to the ways of the demons and who, like her mother, has the ability to sense things about people. And if she looks familiar doing this sort of thing, that’s because she played a very similar role on the superior Netflix TV show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) where she played young Theo. McKenna Grace is only 13, but she has already amassed 51 screen credits, including roles in I,TONYA (2017), READY PLAYER ONE (2018), and CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019).

Madison Iseman is also very good as babysitter Mary Ellen, and I liked Katie Sarife even more as the often annoying but never cliché Daniela, as the character was given some background and depth, making her a bit more fleshed out than the usual characters of this type.  Michael Cimino was also enjoyable in the lighthearted role of Bob, Mary Ellen’s love interest and generally nice guy.

As for Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, they don’t fare as well. Their early scenes are the most cliché in the entire movie, then they disappear for the rest of the movie, only to return for the anticlimactic birthday party.

Another pet peeve: this movie takes place in the early 1970s, and one key sequence involves the remote control of a television set. While remote controls certainly existed in the early 1970s, they were not prevalent at all the way they are today. Most TVs were controlled by knobs or buttons on the console. Small point, but it stood out for me as not being terribly realistic.

The scariest part of ANNABELLE COMES HOME is the way Annabelle looks. Annabelle has always been one creepy doll.

And the film itself looks good. There are lots of cool looking demons and creatures, and they show up and disappear on cue, but their effect isn’t much different than the sort of thrills one gets inside an amusement park haunted house. They pop out at you and they’re scary, but that’s it.

It’s not enough because ANNABELLE COMES HOME is a movie, and as such, it is supposed to tell a story.

Writer/director Gary Dauberman seems to have forgotten this concept.

As a result, ANNABELLE COMES HOME isn’t much of a homecoming.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Necon 38 – The Con That Has Become An Extended Family

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The following re-cap of Necon 38 will be appearing in the September issue of the HWA Newsletter:

Necon 38

July 19-22, 2018

Baypoint Inn & Conference Center

Necon has been described as a con unlike any other, and as a place that is both so tight-knit and welcoming of new folks that it’s like family. Both of these descriptions are true.

The best part about Necon is that everyone is friendly and accessible. So, in addition to informative writer panels all weekend long that are chock full of knowledgable information about the genre and writing in general, you’ll find yourself socializing with authors and like-minded individuals the entire weekend. The bottom line is regardless of where you are in your writing career or if you’re simply a reader you will be welcomed, and you will not be alone.

The worst part about Necon is time doesn’t stop while you’re there. The weekend flies by fast.

Necon was begun by Bob and Mary Booth back in 1980, and following Bob’s passing in 2013, is now run by their adult children, Sara Booth, our current fearless chairperson, and Dan Booth.  They do a fabulous job, year in and year out.

I’ve been going to Necon since 2001, and I haven’t missed one since I started. That’s eighteen Necons for me. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that. I feel as if I should be so much further along in my writing career, and that having gone to so many, I should be much more in the thick of things, but that’s not my style. I tend to hang back at cons and take everything in.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy and appreciate everything there is about Necon as much as the extroverts do.

It’s been a run ride, and it continued this year with Necon 38.

Necon 38 had it all.  Heck, in the true tradition of being a family, we even had a wedding this year!  How cool is that?

Anyway, Necon traditionally opens up on Thursday afternoons, and this year was no exception, as the con started on Thursday, July 19.

Now, a lot happens at Necon, much more than I’ve recorded here. For example, I did not attend evey panel, and there were events that I missed. So, the following is admittedly a recap from my perspective only. It’s not meant to be all-encompasing, and I apologize to anyone in attendance whose name I didn’t mention because either our paths didn’t cross this year or our conversation was all too brief.

Thursday, July 19, 2018.

This year’s guests of honor included writers Helen Marshall, David Wellington, and Dana Cameron, artist Jason Eckhardt, Toastmaster Errick A. Nunnally, and Legends Brian Keene and Carole Whitney.

Registration opened at 2:00, and judging by all the Facebook posts I read, lots of folks arrived right around then,

I did not. Each year driving down from New Hampshire to Bristol, RI, I get stuck in dreadful traffic in and around Boston, which extends my normal two-hour drive to an elongated four-hour drive, usually stuck in traffic in hot sun. This year I decided to skip all that and travel after rush hour, so this year, I arrived much later, around 9:00 pm.

The first official Necon event this year was the Welcome to Necon, Newbies!: Kaffeeklatsch hosted by Errick A. Nunnally & Laura J. Hickman. This programming is another example of how Necon strives to make everyone feel welcome. First timers who attend this meeting receive a nice introduction to the con.

10:00 was the famous Saugy Roast, where those yummy saugies, that flavorful hot dog found only in Rhode Island, are grilled to they’re deliciously charred and blackened. From there, you can stay out in the quad socializing as long as you like.

Friday July 20, 2018

8:00 it was time for breakfast, and I enjoyed a good meal of eggs, home fries, and fruit as I caught up with my roommate for the past several years and master of the dealer’s room, Scott Goudsward.

At 9:00, lots of campers headed out for the first Necon Olympic Event, Mini-Golf. I did not attend as I was on the movie Kaffeeklatsch this morning.

While I try to go to as many panels as possible, I can’t go to all of them, and so I skipped the 9:00 panel to do some writing (it’s a writer’s convention, after all!) and I worked on my movie review of SKYSCRAPER (2018) starring Dwayne Johnson. My reviews are posted on—time for my shameless plug!—my blog, THIS IS MY CREATION: THE BLOG OF MICHAEL ARRUDA, at marruda33.wordpress.com, where you’ll find all my movie reviews and columns on horror movies, all for free, I might add.

At 10:00, I attended the Read Any Good Books Lately?: The Year’s Best Books Kaffeeklatsch, a look back at some of the best books of the year. This Kaffeeklatsch featured Barry Lee Dejasu, Jaime Levine, Erin Underwood, and Hank Wagner. There were lots of book recommendations, most of them offbeat, since this is Necon. Included were nods to A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kell, and to the works of author Neal Shusterman.

At 11:00 it was time for the And the Oscar Goes to: The Year’s Best Films Kaffeeklatsch, featuring Michael Arruda (yours truly!), Scott Goudsward, Matt Schwartz, Craig Shaw Gardner, and L.L. Soares, with lots of input from fellow movie lover Bill Carl.  I started things off by saying that for me it’s been a tremendous year for Marvel, and I cited BLACK PANTHER as my favorite film of the year so far. Other nods went to the horror movies HEREDITARY and A QUIET PLACE. 

Other titles mentioned included the Netflix original THE BABYSITTER, ANNIHILATION, ISLE OF DOGS, THE RITUAL, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, HOTEL ARTEMIS, THE CYNIC THE RAT AND THE FIST, THE DEATH OF STALIN, and the Netflix original GERALD’S GAME, to name just a few.

At noon it was time for lunch, and a chance to catch up with more friends.

This year I joined the “Skeleton Crew,” that awesome group of volunteers led by P.D. (Trish) Cacek. I manned the seat by the dealer’s room entrance for a while, making sure folks didn’t bring beverages into the room, an effort to keep coffee and the like from being spilled on the merchandise. It was fun chatting with everyone who came in and out.

At 2:00 I attended the panel, The Spark: What Inspires a Great Short Story? moderated by Nick Kaufmann. Also on the panel were Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Christa Carmen, Toni L.P. Kelner, Ed Kurtz, and Helen Marshall. There were lots of interesting and insightful tidbits to come out of this panel. Highlights included the notion that not all short stories need to have a beginning, middle, and end, that some need only capture a moment in a character’s life. Another concise definition of a short story: it’s the most important thing to happen in the main character’s life.

At 3:00 I attended the panel, Invasion of the Pod People: Creating Your Own Podcast, moderated by Armand Rosamilla and featuring Amber Fallon, Chris Golden, Brian Keene, James Moore, and Mary SanGiovanni. Discussed were the ins and outs of doing a podcast, and for most folks on the panel, it’s a labor of love. Few people do podcasts to make money. However, it certainly can help book sales as people who listen to the podcasts often will check out your books.

At 4:00 I was back on duty by the Dealer’s Room, and at 5:00 we all assembled outside for the newest Necon tradition, the group photo. This started last year when we had to evacuate the building due to a fire alarm and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. This year we didn’t need a fire alarm for the picture. That being said, the fire alarm had different ideas.  More on that later.

At 7:00 it was time for the Official Necon 38 Toast by Toastmaster Errick A. Nunnally, followed by the comical Necon Update with Mike Myers, followed by the Necon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. This year’s inductee was celebrated horror author and podcast host Brian Keene.

At 8:00 it was time for the Meet the Authors Party, that event where if you’re a reader, you get the opportunity to meet and greet your favorite authors and purchase signed copies of their books. It’s also the opportunity for the authors to set up shop and make their books available.

I was fortunate enough to share a table with some of my fellow New England Horror Authors, including my Cinema Knife Fight buddy L.L. Soares, Pete Dudar, Scott Goudsward, Trisha Wooldridge, and others. For me, if I can sell one book, I’ll count that as a successful evening. So, in that regard, I had a very successful evening in that I sold four of my books, including three copies of my short story collection For The Love of Horror.

I also purchased the highly touted first novel by Tony Tremblay, entitled THE MOORE HOUSE.  I can’t wait to read it. A book I really wanted to buy and will at some point is the brand new short story collection, her first, by Dougjai Gam Bepko, Glass Slipper Dreams, Shattered. I heard plenty of wonderful things about her debut collection this weekend. I also still haven’t bought Matt Bechtel’s highly praised debut collection from last year, Monochromes: And Other Stories.  The downside of living on a budget.

And there’s many, many more. That’s always the most difficult part of Necon. There are so many books to buy, way more than I can afford.

And after that, it was time for socializing on the quad, that time when you get to chat with friends, old and new, long into the wee hours of the morning.  This year I caught up with, among others, L.L. Soares, Pete Dudar, Paul McNally, Kelly Winn, John Harvey, Kevin Lewis, David Price, and Patrick Freivald, to name just a few.

 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I attended the 10:00 panel, BOO!: Modern Ghost Stories, moderated by P.D. Cacek and featuring Tom Deady, John Foster, Michael Rowe, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Tony Tremblay, and Dan Waters, which discussed, among other things, the differences between ghosts of yesteryear and ghosts of today. It was also suggested that ghosts are the easiest tropes to believe in, since most people believe in ghosts, as opposed to vampires, werewolves, and zombies, and so the ghost story author has that advantage in that its subject is one that people want to believe in.

Next up for me was the all important 11:00 panel, Closing Time: Remembering the Life and Work of Jack Ketchum, moderated by Doug Winter, and featuring Linda Addison, Jill Bauman, Ginjer Buchanan, Sephera Giron, Gordon Linzner, and Bracken MacLeod. This was both a somber and celebratory event as the panel looked back on the life of author Jack Ketchum, who passed away earlier this year, known here at Necon by his real name Dallas Mayr. The overwhelming sentiment, which for those of us who attend Necon regularly already know, was how kind and generous Dallas was, and that for those who read him first and met him later, that was a something of a shock, since he wrote brutally dark fiction.

There were also plenty of fun stories and anecdotes, and as Sephera Giron prepared to tell one, a fire alarm— our second in two years— went off. Sephera quipped, “Dallas, it’s not that story!”

After lunch, I found myself working at the door to the dealer’s room once again.  While there, Frank Raymond Michaels and I had our annual Necon discussion of Universal Horror vs. Hammer Horror. I also found some time to relax out in the quad on a beautiful sunny afternoon and chat with friends.

I attended the 3:30 panel, When Your Book Has A Soundtrack: The Influence of Music on Your Writing, moderated by Matt Bechtel, and featuring Doungjai Gam Bepko, Rachel Autumn Deering, Gary Frank, Bracken MacLeod, Rio Youers, and Doug Winter. The panel discussed listening to music when writing, and the majority of the authors in the room acknowledged that they do indeed listen to music when they write. Some authors ignore the song lyrics and view the vocals as just another instrument making music. Other authors are inspired by lyrics, writing stories or even entire novels based on them.

At 4:30, I attended the panel It’s Kind of a Long Story: The Art of the Novel, moderated by Kristin Dearborn, and featuring William Carl, James Chambers, Nate Kenyon, David Wellington, Mercedes M. Yardley, Rio Youers, and Dyer Wilk.  This panel covered exactly what its title said, the nuts and bolts of writing a novel. A bunch of topics were discussed, including the use of outlines and the differences between writing a novel and a short story.

After dinner, I joined my fellow Skeleton Crew members including P.D. Cacek (our fearless leader!), Morven Westfield, Scott Goudsward, Scott Wooldridge, and James Chambers, among others, as we helped set up for the Artists Reception, that time where the attention turns to the artists and their fine works on display in the dealer’s room, as well as to delicious desserts and hot coffee.

At 7:30 it was time for That Damned Game Show featuring Craig Shaw Gardner & Doug Winter.  The “controversial” game show had been missing from Necon for several years now, but I for one was happy to see its return. It’s controversial because it tends to go on a tad too long.  I happen to love the game show. I think the running gag of the confusing overlong rules is hilarious, and it’s fun to see the “contestants” struggle with both the answers and the rules. That being said, it is too long, and going forward, if it’s cut in half, it would make for a very satisfying event.

Another reason I enjoy the game show is that when the contestants miss the answers, the questions go to the audience, and if you answer right you win one of Necon’s “valuable prizes.” I won two prizes this year, as I answered two obscure questions on the films of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  And I love these valuable little joke prizes because I use them in my middle school classroom throughout the year. I have a wind-up walking brain, for instance, that my middle schoolers adore.

After the game show, it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. This year’s “victim,” was Matt Bechtel. Hilarious as always, but no details here, because “what happens at Necon, stays at Necon.”

Afterwards it was more socializing on the quad, and more saugies!  Once again I joined my fellow Skeleton Crew members and helped set up the food tables.

And since Necon is a family, tonight we had something extraordinarily special: a wedding! Yes, James Moore married Tessa (Cullie) Seppala in a ceremony presided over by Bracken MacLeod. It was a beautiful ceremony, witnessed by the 200 Necon campers who were all assembled on the quad.

Sunday July 22, 2018

While there were two panels this morning, I missed them after a late night in which I was up to about 2:30 am.

I attended the 11:00 Necon Town Meeting, where all the Necon Olympic medals were handed out for events such as mini golfdarts, foosball, High-Low Jack, and ping pong, as well as various other awards, such as the FEZ’S, those famous Necon caps given out to folks at the con who were deemed “FEZ-worthy.”

The Town Meeting is also the time to look back and say what folks liked and disliked. As usual, there were plenty of likes and pretty much no dislikes.

The hardest part of Necon is saying goodbye to everyone. I tried to say farewell to as many people as I could find, but ultimately, with people leaving various times, it’s impossible to catch everyone.

The good news is that next year is another Necon, another opportunity to spend time with like-minded folks who are more than just good friends. They really are members of an extended family.

Until next year—.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016) – Quiet Ghost Story Drama Doesn’t Stand Out

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What if you made a stylish horror movie but forgot to make it scary?

You’d have THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016),  a horror movie now available on Netflix Streaming.

Dana Barrow (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido), and their young son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) move into their new home, an elegant manor in the countryside.  They are looking for a fresh start in life as they recently suffered a devastating tragedy.

Dana is an architect and plans to work on the house, while David, when he’s not off on business trips, spends his days with their son Lucas.  Dana discovers a mysterious room on the top floor of the house, a room that is not in the home’s original plans.  When she starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night, as well as catching glimpses of people inside the house, she begins to suspect the house is haunted.

She learns that the room on the upper floor of their home is most likely a “disappointments” room, a place where a century before families would hide children they deemed as “disappointments,” children suffering from either physical deformities or mental disorders.

When the spiritual and physical worlds collide, and young Lucas’ life is threatened, Dana takes matters into her own hands to save him.  But her efforts are hindered by her own psychological issues, as she struggles to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined.  Is Lucas really in danger?  Or is it all just in her head?

The biggest knock against THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is that it is yet another haunted house/ghost story movie.  There have been so many of these movies of late, unless it’s the best I’ve ever seen, a film with this plot has a lot going against it because it’s extremely difficult to keep fresh at this point.  And THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is not fresh.  What it has to offer in terms of ghost story plot is nothing new, and this definitely works against the movie.

Early on, there were parts of this film that reminded me of the classic chiller THE CHANGELING (1980) starring George C. Scott, but that film benefitted from some genuine scares and a shocking reveal.  THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM has neither.

What it does have are solid acting performances and a steady directorial hand by director D.J. Caruso.

Caruso, who also directed the teen adventure I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the thriller DISTURBIA (2007), sets the mood early on with some creepy scenes, like the strange black dog that keeps showing up outside the home, and the eerie spectral figures which Dana sees.  And the film looks good throughout, even as the story ultimately fails to build to a satisfying climax.

The screenplay by director Caruso and Wentworth Miller [an actor known mostly for his starring role on the TV series PRISON BREAK (2005-2009) and the current mini-series PRISON BREAK: RESURRECTION (2017)] adds the disappointments room to the haunted house plot, and early on this was enough to hold my attention, but as the story evolves, and we learn more about the events which led to the haunting of this house, things become less interesting.

The potential for a nifty psychological thriller is certainly there but it doesn’t quite happen because the film only hints at the darkness inside Dana’s head.  It could be ghosts.  It could be imagined.  It could be a little bit of both.  The film never really makes up its mind, and it’s a weaker vehicle for it.

The film definitely plays like a dark drama rather than a horror movie.  As such, it’s a pretty good example of quiet horror.

But what it fails to do is reach the next level.  The climax of the film is certainly disturbing, but then what follows is a standard “I’ve got to save my son” sequence  which is ultimately a let down, and this is followed by a tepid ending which doesn’t do the movie any favors.

But as I said the acting is solid.  I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale in the lead as Dana.It was so much more fun to watch her here than in those awful UNDERWORLD movies.  She makes Dana believable, and she seems like a woman with a tortured past who is now thrust into a ghost story conundrum.  That being said, considering what Dana believes she did in the past, her character should have been even more fragile and unhinged than she is here.

There’s a parallel between Beckinsale’s Dana and the father of the child in the disappointments room, Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney).  But just how alike they are is never satisfactorily explored.  Like so many other things in this movie, it’s only hinted at.

Mel Raido does a nice job as Dana’s level-headed husband, David.  He’s the voice of reason who continually works to keep his wife grounded in reality.

Gerald McRaney doesn’t do much more than look menacing as the ghostly Judge Blacker, but he does it so well.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM looks better than a lot of the other recent haunted house/ghost story movies of late, and it doesn’t suffer from the atrocious plot twists that some of those other flicks have, but ultimately it doesn’t really add anything of note to make it stand out.

And while it does provide a rather nasty revelation towards the end, what follows is a by-the-numbers conclusion.

All in all, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is a ghost story drama that will hold your interest for a while before it ultimately fizzles, settling gently into its quiet world of stylized mediocrity.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – Inferior Sequel All 2 Familiar

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Movie Review:   THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

By Michael Arruda

I’ve got to say this right here.  I loved INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), both by director James Wan, and I really wanted to like THE CONJURING 2, especially since Wan was back directing again, but I gotta tell you, I did not like this one at all.

The film starts off with lame prologue showing husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) dealing with the infamous Amityville haunting.  Now, in real life, Ed and Lorraine Warren became famous for investigating the Amityville situation, but this prologue serves no purpose in the movie other than to tie in with the first film which ended with their being summoned to Amityville.

The action switches to London in 1977, where another family is experiencing another haunting.  Eventually, the Warrens are called in to investigate, upon the request of the Catholic Church no less, to find out if the hautning is credible.

Now I could go into more plot details, but I don’t see the need.  And that’s one of the biggest problems I had with THE CONJURING 2:  the story bored me to tears.  Family is terrorized by a demon, or in this case a combination of ghosts and demons (and this combintation has been done before as well), there are lots of strange noises at night, loud knocks on doors, children being possessed, etc.  The Warrens arrive, they investigate, blah blah blah.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I was very surprised I didn’t like this movie.  As I said at the outset, I loved INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, and I fully expected to like this sequel.  But I did not.

In terms of scares, there are a lot of them in THE CONJURING 2, and as you would expect in a James Wan movie, most of them are of the jump scare variety.  I don’t have a problem with this.  I like jump scares.  The problem I had with the jump scares in this movie was that they simply were not scary.  And they weren’t scary for me because I was bored with the story and so I knew, okay here’s the part where something creepy will happen with the child’s toy.  Okay, and here’s the part where the demon will show up in the dark corner.  Now for the young girl to start saying weird things in a deep male voice.  I mean, almost everything that happened in this movie I felt I had seen already.  Many, many times.

James Wan does a fine job constructing all these scenes, but he did the same in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING and there just wasn’t much that was fresh here.

I liked the demon and the ghosts, but some looked better than others, which were a bit thick with CGI effects.

I like the two main actors a lot, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  I’m a huge fan of Farmiga, but I didn’t think either actor was able to rise above the material here.

I thought the script by Carey and Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson, and James Wan was particularly bad. I thought the dialogue at times was laughable, especially during some of the conversations between Wilson and Farmiga.  And the story is about as fresh as a loaf of stale bread.  Demon manipulates spirits to haunt a family.  Okay, I get it. Let’s do something else already.

And there are spirits and demons everywhere.  There’s so much supernatural activity going on inside this house it’s like a GHOSTBUSTERS convention.  It reaches the point of ridiculousness.  It also works against the plot, which presents us with a more skeptical Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Are you kidding me?  We’re supposed to believe that they have doubts?  After seeing everything that happens in this movie?  The only way they could have doubts after seeing this much spectral activity in one place would be if they were blind, and they’re not blind.

I did enjoy Madison Wolfe who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl who becomes the main victim of the film’s demon.  She was believable.  I also enjoyed Frances O’Connor’s performance as the single mother Peggy Hodgson raising her family.  She had a gritty feisty strength about her that was just right for the role.

But as a whole, I found THE CONJURING 2 to be a major letdown, and I’m someone who really enjoys this type of movie.  I mean, I like stories about demons and hauntings, but this story added nothing new.  If you’ve seen THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS, you’ve seen everything that happens in this one.

—END—

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
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