IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CHANGELING (1980)

0

Here’s a reprint of a column I wrote back in 2016:

I first saw THE CHANGELING way back when I was in high school.  It was a late night showing on HBO, and I gotta tell you, it creeped me out.  At the time, other than THE EXORCIST (1973), no other horror movie had gotten under my skin like this one.

So, I was very excited the other day to finally see THE CHANGELING again  on DVD, since I hadn’t seen it in years.  And while I have to admit that it didn’t scare me like it did back in the early 80s when I first saw it, it remains a first-rate horror movie.

It’s the type of horror movie that I love:  an A-list cast, talented director, and a sense of seriousness that lifts it above standard horror fare.  In short, it’s a high-quality movie.

THE CHANGELING opens with a tragedy:  composer John Russell (George C. Scott) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident.  In an effort to rebuild his life, Russell moves across the country, from New York City to the suburbs of Seattle.  He moves into a mansion, a quiet home where he hopes to be able to work on his music in solitude.

He soon begins hearing strange noises at night, noises that lead him to discover a secret room, and inside this room he finds a tiny wheelchair and other items belonging to a child.  Russell soon realizes that there is a ghost in his house, a ghost of a child, and this ghost isn’t trying to frighten him away but on the contrary is trying to communicate with him.  Russell wonders if perhaps the reason this spirit is seeking him might be connected to the fact that he lost his daughter at a young age.

Russell begins to investigate the history of the house, and what he learns leads him to the wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who once lived in Russell’s house as a child.  Russell finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict, with supernatural forces on one side, and the power of a U.S. Senator on the other.

THE CHANGELING is a well-made, creepy and haunting horror movie that certainly belongs in the conversation when discussing the best haunted house/ghost story movies ever made.

Director Peter Medak does a wonderful job here.  The scenes in the house are creepy and atmospheric, and he makes full use of some truly memorable images.  A simple child’s wheelchair has never been so eerie.  Likewise, he uses the child’s voice to full effect and there are some shocking scenes as well, like one involving a bathtub.  The film also looks great.  It looks like something Hammer would have done had they still been in business in 1980 and had moved on to contemporary tales.

Peter Medak has a ton of credits, most of them TV credits, including episodes of SPACE 1999 (1976-77), HOUSE (2004), BREAKING BAD (2009), and HANNIBAL (2013-14), among many, many others.

THE CHANGELING boasts an A-List cast, led by the great George C. Scott, who does a bang-up job here as a man still in grief over the loss of his wife and daughter.  He makes John Russell believable as he channels his grief into helping the child ghost.  You understand why Russell becomes so committed to the ghost’s plight, as he sees it as his job as a parent— especially a parent whose daughter was taken from him at a young age— to help this child who when alive had no one to help him.

And while George C. Scott is remembered as a star actor who worked on such powerful films as PATTON (1970), he was actually no stranger to genre films as he made several in his career, including the science fiction thriller THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER (1984), the TV movie THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), and the third EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III (1990).

Likewise, veteran actor Melvyn Douglas adds class to the proceedings as Senator Carmichael.  THE CHANGELING was the first of back-to-back ghost story movies which Douglas made just before his death in 1981, as he also starred in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981), his final screen credit.

And while Douglas enjoyed a long and varied film career spanning five decades, he began and ended his career with horror films, as he also starred in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) with Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, and in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.

Scott’s real-life wife and frequent co-star Trish Van Devere appears as real estate agent Claire Norman who helps John with his investigation.  She’s very good in the role.  THE CHANGELING was the eighth time Van Devere and George C. Scott starred in a movie together. Trish Van Devere is still with us, as at present, she is 75.

And in another SPACE 1999 connection, Barry Morse appears briefly as a psychologist.  Morse is probably most famous for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard on the TV show THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) but genre fans remember him fondly as Professor Victor Bergman on the science fiction show SPACE 1999 (1975-76).  Morse also appeared in the Amicus anthology horror movie ASYLUM (1972) starring Peter Cushing.

William Gray and Diana Maddox wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Russell Hunter.  Gray also wrote the screenplay for the original PROM NIGHT (1980) starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The screenplay here for THE CHANGELING is far superior to the silly slasher story of PROM NIGHT.

THE CHANGELING will creep you out in the same way that the modern-day PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies do but with the added bonus of also delivering a solid story, something the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never done.  And that’s what sets THE CHANGELING apart from a lot of other horror movies.  It does something that most horror films do not do, and that is it generates scares and creates a sense of eeriness without skimping on its story.  In fact, the story just might be the strongest part of this film.

THE CHANGELING is one of the best movies of its type.  And while I didn’t find it quite as scary as I did way back in the early 80s, it still holds up very well today. In fact, if you’ve never seen it and you’re watching it for the first time, you might not want to watch it alone.  Just sayin’.

—END—

MONSTROUS (2022) – More Mournful Drama Than Monster Movie

0

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.

—END===

MADRES (2021) – Powerful Reveal Doesn’t Save Tepid Horror Tale

0

MADRES (2021), a new Amazon Original movie, is a tepid horror movie that concludes with some powerful, important social commentary which sadly belongs in another movie.

In other words, the message from MADRES is a good one, but the horror movie which precedes the message is not. Not by a long shot.

MADRES is based on true events, and takes place in the 1970s. A young Mexican/American couple Diana (Ariana Guerra) and Beto (Tenoch Huerta) move to a new ranch home in California because Beto is beginning a new job as manager at a farm, and he got the job because most of the workers there share his Mexican heritage. Diana is pregnant with their first child.

It soon becomes apparent that something is not quite right in their new town, specifically with the mothers and babies, as the women there have an unusually high rate of miscarriages. Diana begins to feel ill as well. She learns that the farm has been using pesticides for years which might be causing the miscarriages. However, the locals believe in something more supernatural, that there is a curse on the town and that Diana needs supernatural help to protect herself. Of course, Diana thinks that idea is ridiculous, until she begins to see strange horrific apparitions in her house, which she attributes to hallucinations because of her new mysterious illness.

Eventually, Diana and Beto discover that the truth is far more sinister than either one of these situations which leads to a disturbing ending, by far the best part of an otherwise weak horror movie.

The big reveal is a good one and is powerfully disturbing as well. But the problem is the rest of this movie isn’t about the big reveal. MADRES would have been a far more effective movie had it been marketed as a straight drama than as a horror movie. The subject matter uncovered in the film’s conclusion is what this entire film should have been about.

The horror movie elements here are pretty bad. The film isn’t scary, and its supposed shock scenes featuring Diana and the ghosts are pretty tame and tepid. Director Ryan Zaragoza could have at least tried to scare the audience.

The screenplay by Mario Miscione and Marcella Ochoa misses the mark entirely. With few supernatural sequences, and fewer scares, it fails as a horror movie, and since the big reveal doesn’t appear until the final reel, it doesn’t work as social commentary either.

My favorite performance belongs to Tenoch Huerta as hubby Beto. He comes off as a real person, he’s got a great sense of humor, and he remains a stand-up guy throughout. No cliche detours into two-timing or secretly-sinister husbands.

Ariana Guerra, on the other hand, as Diana, didn’t wow me as much. Actually, her performance is fine, but Diana is such a sour, negative person throughout that every time she’s on screen, which is a lot, I found myself not enjoying this one. For example, she finds fault with the locals even before they start acting weird and creepy. When Beto tries to socialize with the new townsfolk and his workers, Diana frowns, claiming they’re his friends, not hers.

Kerry Cahill enjoys a few chilling moments as Nurse Carol, making the most of her brief screen time as the latest in a long line of evil nurse tropes. Cahill’s very good though.

Joseph Garcia is solid as Beto’s boss Tomas. He exudes sincerity which makes his later transition all the more dramatic.

At first, it looked like MADRES was going for the same vibe as a couple of horror classics, ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), but it never comes close to capturing the feel of those chillers.

In spite of a worthwhile reveal in the final reel, MADRES is a weak and largely forgettable horror movie that struggled to hold my interest for its brief 83 minutes running time.

Which is too bad because what happened to the mothers in this movie is horrible, and their story deserves to be told, but it will need to be told in a different movie because MADRES did a terrible job telling it.

The mothers deserve better.

—END—

GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) – World War II Haunted House Movie Not-Half Bad

1

GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) offers a neat premise for a horror movie: five Allied soldiers in occupied France in 1944 are deployed to a huge mansion once home to the Nazis, and their mission is to watch over it until reinforcements arrive. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast! Because this place is haunted!

The film also gets off to a strong start with a creepy opening sequence featuring the soldiers sleeping in the woods, as one soldier awakes to spy an eerie countenance in the wooded wilderness. Yikes!

In GHOSTS OF WAR, five soldiers, Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Eugene (Skylar Astin), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), Kirk (Theo Rossi) and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), weary from battling Nazis in the French countryside, relish the mission of “house-sitting” an empty mansion for a few days. To them, it means sleeping in beds, access to food and beverages, and some much needed shelter from the unknown horrors awaiting them every day and night on their trek through the French back roads. They are rattled and on the verge of becoming unhinged. This mission has arrived at just the right time.

But their euphoria is short-lived, as they begin to see strange apparations and hear frightening sounds in the middle of the night. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the mansion is downright haunted!

As I said, GHOSTS OF WAR gets off to a creepy start with its effective opening scene, and then things continue, as the first half of this one is a solid mix of horrifying war violence combined with sinister spectral threats once the soldiers reach the mansion. It’s a winning combination.

I enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. Everything works, and there’s not a slow or dull moment to be found. About halfway through, the soldiers finally make the realization that the mansion is haunted, and actually have a refreshing conversation about just what that means: is it being haunted by a group of people who died there, or is the place itself evil, attracting spirits and demons from all over?

At this point, they decide to come up with a plan as to how to proceed, and it’s here where the film slows down a bit, as their investigation into the house’s background simply isn’t as compelling as the relentless horrors thrown at us in the film’s first half.

Then things get worse. Sort of.

See, there’s a plot twist. Ah, the dreaded plot twist! As plot twists goes, this one is pretty damn good. The problem is, its execution is pretty damn bad! The scene which reveals the twist and sets the stage for the big “reveal” of the film, is terribly written and features rushed and pretty bad dialogue. It also features a concept that doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not in the way the film tries to explain it.

But then the film continues with its “reveal” and at long last we see why things happened the way they did. This part I liked, and it does make sense, if you can get past the silly explanation scene in the middle. In other words, the “how” this is all happening still needs work, and I didn’t completely buy it, but the “why” things happened, that part did work for me.

There’s also a strong clue of a plot twist early on in the movie, which at first I thought was an example of some pretty bad film research. One of the characters references seeing old horror movies in his childhood, and mentions some films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF which wasn’t released until 1957, years after World War II! But it turns out this wasn’t an error. Nuff said about that!

GHOSTS OF WAR was written and directed by Eric Bress, who wrote the first two FINAL DESTINATION movies and also wrote and directed THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004), so he’s no stranger to bizarre time shifts in stories. I enjoyed the pace of this one during its first half which I thought was pretty relentless. Bress sets up some eerie ghost scenes as well as some brutal war-related sequences.

The story and the writing is also strong for the most part, until it reaches its ludicrous idea to enable the plot twist. If you can get past that, you won’t mind GHOSTS OF WAR. And once you get past the sloppy transition, the final reveal is actually very good and quite haunting.

The cast is solid. Brenton Thwaites is excellent as lead character Chris, the person the audience will most relate to, as the story is largely seen through his eyes. Thwaites plays Dick Grayson on the TV show TITANS (2018-present).

Skylar Astin is also very good as Eugene, the one character who can read German which becomes useful when the soldiers discover a journal left in the house written in German.

Kyle Gallner fares the best as Tappert, the most unhinged character in the group. Tapper gets carried away when encountering Nazis. He would have felt right at home in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

Theo Rossi, who starred on the TV shows SONS OF ANARCHY (2008–2014) and LUKE CAGE (2016-2018) plays Kirk, and Alan Ritchson plays Butchie, rounding out the cast.

GHOSTS OF WAR is a decent horror movie which gets off to a riveting start before eventually becoming a mixed bag, due mostly to a sloppily conceived plot twist which fails to make a convincing transition to an otherwise chilling conclusion.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

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.  

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

0

the turning

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.

—END—

 

 

 

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) – Prequel to a Prequel Better Than Expected

1

annabelle_creation_poster

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to a prequel.  It’s a prequel to a bad movie which was itself a prequel to a good movie.  Huh?  Let’s try that again.

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to ANNABELLE (2014), a pretty bad movie, which was itself a prequel to THE CONJURING (2013), which was a pretty good movie. And where does that leave ANNABELLE: CREATION?  Somewhere in between.  It’s better than the awful ANNABELLE but not quite as good as THE CONJURING.

In terms of quality, it reminded me a lot of another prequel to a bad movie, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) which was a surprisingly very good prequel to the lowly OUIJA (2014).  Heck, the two movies even share the same star, child actor Lulu Wilson.

ANNABELLE:  CREATION takes place in the 1950s, as a group of girls from a Catholic orphanage and their sponsor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into a new home, a farmhouse run by a retired doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his ailing bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins lost their own daughter twelve years earlier and see opening their home as an orphanage for young girls as a way to instill some life back into their world.

The girls are ecstatic to be living in a new and very large home, but Samuel tells them that there is one room in the house that is always locked and that room is off-limits (of course.)  One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) enters the room anyway (of course, again) and immediately feels a strange presence there. She realizes it is the ghost of the Mullins’ deceased daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Janice also discovers the doll Annabelle hidden away in a closet, and she experiences a sense of dread. When Janice’s best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) joins her in the room, she too senses evil, and that’s because there’s a demon inside the Annabelle doll that wants people’s souls.  Yikes!

The girls try to warn everyone in the house that there is something evil residing there with them, but by the time they do, it’s too late.

ANNABELLE: CREATION has a lot of good things going for it. The best part about it is that it delivers some pretty good scares and crafts some memorable horror scenes.  Credit director David F. Sandberg for a job well done when it comes to the scare department. Of course, the Annabelle doll is creepy to begin with, but interestingly enough some of the better scare sequences don’t even involve her. There’s a creepy bit involving a scarecrow, a suspenseful scene on a staircase chairlift, and yet another one in a creaky old-fashioned dumb-waiter.

Then there’s the demon. One of the more interesting parts of ANNABELLE: CREATION is that it sheds more light on the background of the Annabelle doll.  It seems that the instigator of all this evil surrounding Annabelle is a demon possessing the doll that wants people’s souls.  We catch glimpses of this demon, and he’s pretty cool looking, which is no surprise since he’s played by Joseph Bishara who’s becoming quite the expert at this sort of thing. Bishara played a demon in both the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING movies. He was most memorable in INSIDIOUS (2010) as the Lipstick-Face Demon.

There are lots of cool scares here, and that’s a good thing.  What’s not so good is the pacing.  There are a lot of slow parts in ANNABELLE: CREATION, lots of scenes where characters slowly move about in dark hallways, the kinds of scenes that drive me nuts in horror movies.  These types of scenes don’t build suspense. They put audiences to sleep.

And the film is just begging for a more frenetic pace during its third act.  While the movie’s conclusion isn’t bad at all, it never becomes that go-for-the-throat ending that makes audiences squirm and scream.

Director Sandberg does make full use of the creepy farmhouse interiors.  Most of the film takes place in dark rooms and hallways, and the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky and haunting.  The camera also gets in close, so much so you can almost smell the wood of the old hardwood floors.

Sandberg also directed LIGHTS OUT (2016), an okay horror movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about. I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION more.

The screenplay by Gary Dauberman isn’t bad.  It tells a decent story and does a good job with its characters, who come across as real and likable.  I liked some of the reveals about Annabelle, and I enjoyed the characters, from the girls to Sister Charlotte to Samuel and Esther Mullins.  The dialogue isn’t always fresh, and the story Esther Mullins tells about what happened to her daughter is full of dumb lines and clichés.

Dauberman also wrote ANNABELLE (2014), and the second time seems to have been the charm, as his screenplay here for ANNABELLE: CREATION is much better and tells a far more interesting story than the previous film.  Dauberman also wrote the screenplay to the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (2017), due out in September.

Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both excellent.  It was especially fun to watch them go through different levels of emotion.  At first, they’re joyful about their new home, then there’s quiet unease and building fear, and then flat-out visceral horror as the threat becomes real. And once the demon becomes involved, there’s also some icy cold evil, which Bateman does well.

This is already the third horror movie for young Lulu Wilson, as she previously starred in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2014) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).

The rest of the girls in the film are also very good.

I also enjoyed Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte.  She makes the nun a real person and prevents her from becoming a cliché.  Likewise, Anthony LaPaglia does the same for Samuel Mullins.  At times, LaPaglia plays things a bit too mournful, as he just sort of stares gloomily at the camera, but for the most part he does a nice job bringing Samuel Mullins to life.

Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins is in the film less than LaPaglia, and as a result has less of an impact, and unfortunately towards the end of the film she does get some of the worst dialogue in the movie.

In a small role, Mark Bramhall has some fine moments as Father Massey, the priest who drives them to the Mullins’ farmhouse and who returns later in the movie. He also gets one of the more humorous lines in the film.

The story ends with a solid tie-in to ANNABELLE.  The way screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg tie the two movies together is creative and satisfying.

I liked ANNABELLE: CREATION much better than I expected I would.  It’s a decent horror movie that rises above the muck of inferior sequels and prequels, yet it’s not quite as good or at the level of an INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, those horror movies that are destined to be remembered for years to come, the ones you want to watch over and over again.

I guess that would be asking too much from a prequel to a prequel.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  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.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  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 cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  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

1

The-Disappointments-Room-2016-poster

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—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017) – Supernatural Drama More Interested in Questions Than Answers

1

personal_shopper poster

PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017), the second collaboration between French director Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart, is the type of movie that gives me fits.

It’s complex and artistic, and its story is purposely left unclear, and for a story guy like me, that drives me crazy.  It’s like reading a well-written poem.  You appreciate its artistry and spend hours pouring over its words looking for meaning, trying to find out just what it is the poet is trying to say, and on those occasions when you fail to reach a satisfying conclusion, you have to ask yourself:  was there anything there to begin with?  Which is why when all is said and done, I prefer to read novels.

That’s how I felt while watching PERSONAL SHOPPER, a ghost story that plays out like a supernatural drama as opposed to a horror movie or thriller, and that’s okay.  I loved the style of this movie.  But the wheels inside my head are still spinning over its content.

Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is an American living in Paris working as a personal shopper to a celebrity who due to her fame cannot shop unencumbered.  But the real reason Maureen is there, and the reason she is so somber and haunted, is her twin brother died there a month earlier.  And Maureen isn’t just mourning.  She’s looking for a sign.

Her brother was a medium, as is Maureen, and he had promised her that if he died he would send her a sign from the other side.  And so she spends dark nights inside the house where her brother had lived, waiting for his message.  In fact, at one point in the movie, when asked what she is doing in Paris, she actually says she is waiting.  Her search isn’t restricted to her brother’s house, but pretty much everywhere she goes in Paris, she is on the lookout for some sign from her brother, and when she is contacted, whether through strange noises in the dark or haunting apparitions or mysterious text messages, it sets off a myriad of questions.  Is it her brother?  Is it someone else? If it is someone else, is it a spirit or a real person?  Or are there multiple spirits/persons trying to contact her?  Do they pose a threat?

These are all fascinating questions, and I enjoyed following Maureen on her search for answers.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really provide satisfying responses to these questions, as it remains vague about most of them.  Perhaps this is the point, that when seeking out those things that haunt us, there aren’t always clear definitive answers. Either way, PERSONAL SHOPPER is definitely a movie more about questions than answers.

Director Olivier Assayas drew me in immediately with his gloomy and somber cinematography as the film opens with Maureen arriving at her deceased brother’s home, which sets up a very creepy scene early on:  Maureen’s first night alone in the house. She’s there in the dark, and she hears a noise, and unlike heroines in traditional horror movies who call out “Hello?” loudly and hyperventilate, Maureen silently and slowly makes her way through the pitch black corridors.  Of course, at this point in the movie, the audience isn’t aware of what she is doing there or who she is looking for, which only adds to the weirdness of the sequence.

And this is pretty much how director Assayas’ screenplay  unfolds.  He doesn’t really tell the story in a straight narrative.  For instance, the film nearly reaches its halfway mark before it’s revealed clearly what Maureen’s job is, that she works as a personal shopper.

PERSONAL SHOPPER is one very moody and somber film, and as such, is driven by Kristen Stewart’s subtle yet dominating performance.  She’s in nearly every scene of the movie, and the film doesn’t suffer for it.  She is captivating to watch, and in spite of the purposely vague narrative, she held my interest throughout.  Her performance here reminded me a bit of Casey Affleck’s performance in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016).  Like Affleck, she’s haunted and pained throughout, as if she is suffering from a permanent migraine. Her intense search for answers becomes almost palpable.

It’s interesting thematically that while on the one hand Maureen is dealing with spirits while she searches for a sign from her brother, on the other hand, her job keeps her in contact with a celebrity who also seems more dead than alive, who treats people horribly and is oblivious to everyone around her, as if she, like a spirit, is living in some other world. Likewise, even though she has a boyfriend back home who she communicates with via Skype, Maureen struggles with human relationships.  She seems to enjoy being alone. It’s almost as if she too is living in another world,  and there are certainly parallels between her story and her brother’s.

For example, they’re twins.  They’re both mediums.  They both share the same cardiovascular defect which caused her brother to suffer a heart attack and die while only in his twenties.  Her brother is literally dead, and she seems to be figuratively dead.  The film shows two different worlds intertwined, so that it’s difficult to know which one is which and who is in which one.  It’s fascinating to think about, and the film throws out hints and suggestions that come close to turning the entire plot on its head.

The film doesn’t skimp on the suspense either.  There’s the aforementioned opening scene in the dark house which is as creepy as they get.  There are scenes of spectral appearances, and one of the most suspenseful sequences involves Maureen receiving a series of strange text messages which she at first hopes are from her brother, but then she has doubts and fears that perhaps someone- a spirit or a very real person – might be stalking her.

The best part of PERSONAL SHOPPER is it’s about as far from a by-the-numbers thriller as you can get.  It’s a much more complex movie than most, and for that alone, it’s worth watching.

It’s a haunting film, empowered by Kristen Stewart’s mesmerizing performance, and by Olivier Assayas’ artistic direction.    The camera gets in real close during the suspense scenes, and it takes its time with the spectral sequences, allowing for full impact when apparitions appear.

Other scenes end in mid-dialogue, often giving the distinct notion that what we are seeing, especially in terms of Maureen, is only part of what is going on.  Indeed, this is a movie where the missing parts seem to be more prominent and powerful than the parts we are shown.

Assayas’ cryptic screenplay is like a puzzle, and as such, for a moviegoer like myself who enjoys a good story, it’s frustrating.  The ending in particular leaves its audience with one big question mark.

Yet, this doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of the movie.  Its somber mood and unsettling eeriness perfectly permeate the tale of Maureen’s heartfelt and painful search for her deceased brother.

PERSONAL SHOPPER is a movie more interested in questions than answers.  Maureen spends the whole movie asking questions, looking for answers, and by the end of the movie, she seems to have found them, but just what they are and what they mean for her and for the audience, remains unknown.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  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.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  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 cover

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

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CHANGELING (1980)

1

changeling-poster

I first saw THE CHANGELING way back when I was in high school.  It was a late night showing on HBO, and I gotta tell you, it creeped me out.  At the time, other than THE EXORCIST (1973), no other horror movie had gotten under my skin like this one.

So, I was very excited the other day to finally see THE CHANGELING again  on DVD, since I hadn’t seen it in years.  And while I have to admit that it didn’t scare me like it did back in the early 80s when I first saw it, it remains a first-rate horror movie.

It’s the type of horror movie that I love:  an A-list cast, talented director, and a sense of seriousness that lifts it above standard horror fare.  In short, it’s a high quality movie.

THE CHANGELING opens with a tragedy:  composer John Russell (George C. Scott) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident.  In an effort to rebuild his life, Russell moves across the country, from New York City to the suburbs of Seattle.  He moves into a mansion, a quiet home where he hopes to be able to work on his music in solitude.

He soon begins hearing strange noises at night, noises that lead him to discover a secret room, and inside this room he finds a tiny wheelchair and other items belonging to a child.  Russell soon realizes that there is a ghost in his house, a ghost of a child, and this ghost isn’t trying to frighten him away but on the contrary is trying to communicate with him.  Russell wonders if perhaps the reason this spirit is seeking him might be connected to the fact that he lost his daughter at a young age.

Russell begins to investigate the history of the house, and what he learns leads him to the wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas)  who once lived in Russell’s house as a child.  Russell finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict, with supernatural forces on one side, and the power of a U.S. Senator on the other.

THE CHANGELING is a well-made, creepy and haunting horror movie that certainly belongs in the conversation when discussing the best haunted house/ghost story movies ever made.

Director Peter Medak does a wonderful job here.  The scenes in the house are creepy and atmospheric, and he makes full use of some truly memorable images.  A simple child’s wheelchair has never been so eerie.  Likewise, he uses the child’s voice to full effect and there are some shocking scenes as well, like one involving a bath tub.  The film also looks great.  It looks like something Hammer would have done had they still been in business in 1980 and had moved on to contemporary tales.

the-changeling-wheelchair

The creepy wheelchair in THE CHANGELING (1980).

Peter Medak has a ton of credits, most of them TV credits, including episodes of SPACE 1999 (1976-77), HOUSE (2004), BREAKING BAD (2009), and HANNIBAL (2013-14), among many, many others.

THE CHANGELING boasts an A-List cast, led by the great George C. Scott, who does a bang-up job here as a man still in grief over the loss of his wife and daughter.  He makes John Russell believable as he channels his grief into helping the child ghost.  You understand why Russell becomes so committed to the ghost’s plight, as he sees it as his job as a parent— especially a parent whose daughter was taken from him at a young age—  to help this child who when alive had no one to help him.

george-c-scott-the-changeling

George C. Scott as composer John Russell in THE CHANGELING.

And while George C. Scott is remembered as a star actor who worked on such powerful films as PATTON (1970), he was actually no stranger to genre films as he made several in his career, including the science fiction thriller THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER (1984), the TV movie THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), and the third EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III (1990).

Likewise, veteran actor Melvyn Douglas adds class to the proceedings as Senator Carmichael.  THE CHANGELING was the first of back to back ghost story movies which Douglas made just before his death in 1981, as he also starred in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981), his final screen credit.

And while Douglas enjoyed a long and varied film career spanning five decades, he began and ended his career with horror films, as he also starred in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) with Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, and in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.

Scott’s real life wife and frequent co-star Trish Van Devere appears as real estate agent Claire Norman who helps John with his investigation.  She’s very good in the role.  THE CHANGELING was the eighth time Van Devere and George C. Scott starred in a movie together. Trish Van Devere is still with us, as at present, she is 75.

And in another SPACE 1999 connection, Barry Morse appears briefly as a psychologist.  Morse is probably most famous for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard on the TV show THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) but genre fans remember him fondly as Professor Victor Bergman on the science fiction show SPACE 1999 (1975-76).  Morse also appeared in the Amicus anthology horror movie ASYLUM (1972) starring Peter Cushing.

William Gray and Diana Maddox wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Russell Hunter.  Gray also wrote the screenplay for the original PROM NIGHT (1980) starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The screenplay here for THE CHANGELING is far superior to the silly slasher story of PROM NIGHT.

THE CHANGELING will creep you out in the same way that the modern day PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies do but with the added bonus of also delivering a solid story, something the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never done.  And that’s what sets THE CHANGELING apart from a lot of other horror movies.  It does something that most horror films do not do, and that is it generates scares and creates a sense of eeriness without skimping on its story.  In fact, the story just might be the strongest part of this film.

THE CHANGELING is one of the best movies of its type.  And while I didn’t find it quite as scary as I did way back in the early 80s, it still holds up very well today. In fact, if you’ve never seen it and you’re watching it for the first time, you might not want to watch it alone.  Just sayin’.

—END—

 

 

 

 

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

1
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.
­­­END­­­