[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 1 – The Amityville Horror (1979)

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton

Screenplay: Sandor Stern

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Another year, another set of horror movies. Welcome back to the 31 Days of Horror. Let’s get started with what is considered a classic of the horror film world, the start to what is likely the longest running horror film franchises in history (in terms of actual quantity of releases): The Amityville Horror. The franchise ended up spawning 12 more official installments with numerous other films which utilized the Amityville name for brand recognition, but all of it starts back in 1979 with the first film, directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, Question 7), based on the novel by Jay Anson, which in turn is supposedly based on the true story of the Lutzes. Now, I’m not here to discuss the validity of this “true” story. That’s not my area. I’m here to talk about the film. I’ve said it before, but in the grand scheme of things, nobody cares about the book and nobody cares about the true story when they see a movie (yes, some people do, but we are dealing with the outliers and not the trend here). When people see a movie, they are there for entertainment through story and character. Now, let’s decide if The Amityville Horror is able to provide that.

In 1975, George (James Brolin, Traffic, TV’s Life in Pieces) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder, Superman, Black Christmas) have purchased a home in Amityville, New York. As they settle in with Kathy’s three kids from her previous marriage, strange incidents begin occurring around the new home. Father Delaney (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night, On the Waterfront), brought in to bless the home, becomes violent ill and experiences an ill will in the house. Kathy notices George’s frequent waking up at 3:15 every morning, and his slow mental deterioration from the man she married. As they learn about the house’s horrible past, it becomes clear that a malevolent force wishes death upon them.

My primary criticism of The Amityville Horror is that I just don’t find it scary, even in the tonal sense. The idea of someone going crazy in their own home, as George finds himself, is gripping, but I don’t get the sense of anything really causing it other than a feeling. I would contrast his character arc with that of Jack Torrance in both the novel, The Shining, and the Stanley Kubrick film. In Stephen King’s novel, Jack is seen as a man struggling with himself and his vices. His slow descent into madness feels believable because we see what is driving him mad and how it ties to his background. In Kubrick’s film (which is very different in its characterization of Jack), we see a man already on the tipping point of insanity who really pushes himself over the edge. Both interesting takes on this type of character arc, but in Amityville, we are presented with George Lutz, a seemingly normal man who goes a little wacko because of…something. Sure, I can understand a feeling, a stress over trying to father three kids who aren’t his by blood, the financial strain of new homeownership, but I never felt like the connection between these elements is made. George just gets a little crazy.

The only characters in the film that gave me a sense of the house’s evil were Father Delaney and Kathy’s aunt, a nun. Both of them related the unusual events in ways that made me feel like this was an evil home. Delaney’s reaction is shown, while the nun’s is merely told to us, and I felt that both worked. In fact, I would say that Delaney’s blessing scene, which occurs very early in the film, is the most frightening sequence. A man of God is trapped within the house’s walls, and he has been caught off guard by a sense of evil he’s never felt before. A similar idea is played with as the nun later relates how sick she became just be being in proximity with the home.

I would have like the film to focus more on the financial instability of the Lutzes through all this. This is not an uncommon critique. In fact, much of the dialogue of the film is connected, in one way or another, to finances, but I don’t think Rosenberg, as a director, marries this with the paranormal activity taking place. Financial strain is a very scary, very real pain that many, including this writer, have experienced. It’s just as scary as a haunted house, and the idea that the mental state that money problems bring being used as a supernatural target is very unnerving. I just never felt like we got there in the narrative.

Beyond all that, the film is simply too long. The climactic finale is quite thrilling, but getting there is kind of a slog. There are great scenes that build the tension, and then there are moments where all of that tension is lost in a bungled narrative that focuses on the wrong elements.

Thankfully, we are treated to Lalo Schifrin’s powerful score which keeps the story somewhat blanketed in an eerie and unhappy layer. Where the story fails, the score succeeds, at times being the only consistently strong element. Without the score, the film could collapse in on itself.

As I mentioned, this is not to say the film doesn’t have merit beyond the score. There are things to like, but there are also a fair amount that doesn’t work. The Amityville Horror lies in the middle of things, never being as great as its reputation, but never being immemorable among the hundreds of spooky house movies littering the past several decades. It’s merely okay, good for an initial viewing but little more than that.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 12 – Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

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Director: David Price

Cast: Terrence Knox, Paul Scherrer, Ryan Bollman, Christie Clark, Rosaline Allen, Ned Romero

Screenplay: A.L. Katz, Gilbert Adler

92 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, and for language.

 

“What is all this shit about the corn?”

-Actual Quote from the film

There are few franchises that just won’t die. I’m not talking about franchises like Friday the 13th or Halloween, which still maintain popularity with each release. I’m talking about franchises that just won’t die. Ones like The Amityville Horror or one we are going to talk about some today, Children of the Corn. As I watch each new film, I wonder to myself, “Who’s still watching these?” I get no definitive answer. There can’t be enough people that continue to frequent a franchise like this, with quality dwindling as each new installment drops. It’s a mystery, that’s for sure, and the only way to truly solve it is to dive right in.

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Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice follows the events of the previous installment. After the police discover the town of Gatlin and all the parentless children, they move them to the nearby town of Hemingford in hopes of getting the children to new families and better lives. The problem is that the surviving children of Gatlin aren’t prepared to let go of their deity, He Who Walks Behind the Rows. When teenager Micah (Ryan Bollman, The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia, $elfie Shootout) is possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows, he begins enacting plans to rid  the town of Hemingford of adults and create a similar society like Gatlin. Reporter John Garrett (Terrence Knox, TV’s Tour of Duty, From a Whisper to a Scream) and his son Danny (Paul Scherrer, Rockets’ Red Glare, Standoff) have just entered town and are thrust into the middle, with Danny himself being courted to join the cult.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice starts out with a promising yet all too familiar premise of the cult spreading to a new town. It quickly begins to fall though under the weight of its super-low budget. Director David Price (Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, Son of Darkness: To Die For II) used locals in all the roles outside of the principal cast and nobody is showing any signs of acting capabilities. The acting across the board is choppy and disappointing, which many could fault the screenplay from A.L. Katz and Gilbert Adler (Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood). It’s a dual disappointment I’m afraid.

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Price’s film doesn’t showcase any ability for storytelling, be it from the visual or auditory fashion. The film tries to retell the original film and instead only shows its own faults. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice is just downright terrible. There’s no reason that there should’ve ever been a third film…Ever (to be continued when I review Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest).

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn, click here.

[Early Review] The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente

Screenplay: Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson

133 mins. Rated R for terror and horror violence.

 

Good evening, everyone, I just got back from an early screening for The Conjuring 2! Did I like it? Spoiler: Yeah, I did.

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This sequel from director James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) is set after Lorraine (Vera Farmiga, TV’s Bates Motel, The Departed) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson, Watchmen, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) have wrapped up their famed inspection of the Amityville house. Now, a far more terrifying case comes calling all the way from Enfield in north London. Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Mercy) and her family have been experiencing a new level of paranormal disturbance that threatens the lives of the entire family. This entity has centered itself on Peggy’s daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe, The Campaign, Keanu) and plans on forcing her to do the unthinkable. Now, the Warrens have found themselves in their most dangerous journey, facing an enemy that wants more than just the Hodgsons.

First of all, I have to congratulate Wan on not tackling The Amityville Horror. This sequel touches on it just enough to provide a context for the series. The Conjuring 2 is one of the more amazing horror films in recent times. It may also be Wan’s best film to date, and I mean that.

The acting from Farmiga and Wilson are again incredible, but it’s the relationships built between them and the Hodgsons, particularly Janet and Peggy, that make the film. It’s rare to call a horror film heartwarming, but that’s exactly what The Conjuring 2 reaches for amidst its shocking and tense mood. Young Madison Wolfe holds her own in her scenes with the more accomplished performers here. There’s also a terrific turn from Simon McBurney (The Last King of Scotland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) as Maurice Gross, a man searching for proof of life after death but who may be too easily convinced. On the polar opposite in the troupe is Anita Gregory (Franka Potente, TV’s Copper, The Bourne Identity) who is out to prove the Hodgson haunting a hoax.

Wan’s always had great cinematography in his films, and The Conjuring 2 is no exception. It would seem that the horror director’s entire filmography has led to this, from his smaller pictures like Saw to his action-packed extravaganza with Furious 7. Wan’s work has created a unique style pulling from everything he has done before and creating something wholly new.

Another progression is that of Joseph Bishara, who scored the film. Bishara is much more restrained than in previous works like Insidious, his score only enhancing scares instead of instigating them. It works very well here.

James Wan swings for the fences, even if he misses on the special effects. There is a hint of swift CGI to this film involving one particular element that I won’t mention here. You’ll know it when you see it, this piece of CGI will not age well, even if it didn’t completely take me out of the movie.

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The Conjuring 2 feels so personal and so profound, the master stroke of a filmmaker in full control of his craft. It’s incredible to have been a fan of this storytelling for over a decade and to see his metamorphosis into a skilled and strong filmmaker who impresses me more each time I enter the cinema. See The Conjuring 2. It’ll make you believe in studio horror again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Insidious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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Director: Samuel Bayer

Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz

Screenplay: Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer

95 mins. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

 

Earlier this month, I discussed Platinum Dunes and their remake of The Amityville Horror. In that review, I mentioned that I believe a remake was an unsuitable idea for that franchise and, indeed, the entire horror genre. Most horror fans understand that the endless barrage of sequels boils down to mostly remake material, but we love the thrill of an unstoppable horror that keeps coming back. By hitting the remake switch, we get stuck with a new thread that may not be strong enough to carry a film. I happen to think that, if you want to bring back a franchise, do it like Star Trek did, where the new film could constitute a beginning of a series while being honest to the fans. Easy? No, but did we ever want easy? No. Even Friday the 13th’s remake was a better choice than just the same movie over again. Friday the 13th took the route of rebooting the series by the taking the best parts of remaking the franchise rather than just the inciting film. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, we get a straight remake, so we don’t get scared, because we’ve seen it all before.

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The teenagers in town are dying when they fall asleep, and there’s not much that can be done about it. Quentin Smith (Kyle Gallner, American Sniper, Dear White People) and Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara, The Social Network, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are willing to try anything to stay awake as they attempt to uncover the dark secret about their town, their parents, and the man who haunts their dreams, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen, RoboCop).

I really enjoy Jackie Earle Haley’s work here. I’ve often found him to be an interesting character actor who specializes in the darkness within humanity. As Freddy Krueger, he found a menacing voice and strong physical performance that adds something new to the character. He even improvised some truly disturbing dialogue to keep the actors unhinged during shooting. I particularly like the unsettling line about the how the brain still functions seven minutes after death. The problem with his character is that his face is half-CGI’d and that lead to a more wooden character than we should have had. The irritating part was that the reason for the CGI (from the same group involved with Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight) was meant to be true to actual burn victims. Then, at the last minute, they scaled it back, hindering Haley’s work without a reason, and effectively crushing the intensity of the film.

As for the teenagers of Springwood, I can’t be as happy about. Gallner and Mara tune in flat work, bolstered by some pretty good (if not completely cheesy) acting from Katie Cassidy (TV’s Arrow, Monte Carlo) and Kellan Lutz (TV’s The Comeback, Twilight).

The new addition of micro-dreaming is cool, but it boils down to jumping the shark here. Where does the story go if they can’t even stay awake.

New director Samuel Bayer takes his touch for music videos and applies it well to the cinematography of this film. He absolutely can’t handle using practical effects which result from the over-shiny quality of the picture. Where’s the brooding darkness? Good question.

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There is a lot of good that A Nightmare on Elm Street did (I don’t agree with Rooney Mara speaking out against the film once she “made it” as an actress). There, unfortunately, is too much that this remake did wrong. The entire film comes off as a flimsy reminder that we had better 30 years ago. It can’t carry the weight of a franchise, and now fanboys like me are waiting around to see if we will ever get another tour of Elm Street.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Amityville Horror (2005)

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Director: Andrew Douglas

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Philip Baker Hall

Screenplay: Scott Kosar

90 mins. Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use.

 

Platinum Dunes is known (or notorious?) for their remakes of classic horror films. In 2005, we got a new Amityville Horror film. Like it or not, it happened.

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In 1975, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern, Woman in Gold) and his wife Kathy (Melissa George, TV’s The Slap, 30 Days of Night) move into their new home. Their time at the home would last 28 days of sheer terror as they discover the previous owners were murdered in the home one year previously.

Something I noticed as I watched this film yesterday that I hadn’t seen before. This movie is so PG it is ridiculous. I wasn’t scared once. I was barely even intrigued. This film is so tame I couldn’t take it. Ryan Reynolds is perhaps my favorite part and even he came off as too hokey at times, trying to deliver snappy dialogue when he should have been focused on his character’s development. I enjoyed his process (he actually neglected getting to know his on-screen children to make him more menacing when needed), but the finished product couldn’t coordinate him in.

Now, the set was actually scarier than the film. On the first day of the shoot, a dead fisherman washed ashore on set. That shit is scary. We’ll get to that one day.

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All in all, there are reasons Andrew Douglas isn’t a big name at all. This is one of them. The Amityville Horror is a movie that could have worked as a remake. The whole franchise has a lot of problems and a remake could have course-corrected and brought the series together. It didn’t work, though. It didn’t at all.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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