48 posts categorized "Horror"

July 15, 2013


Ghost Story —
James Wan Abandons Gore for Suspense

ConjuringSince carving his name as a modern-horror director to be reckoned with, James Wan (“Saw” - 2006) has been moving steadily toward a less literal, more haunting, approach to the genre. “Insidious” (2010) evinced a maturity of creepy style and suspenseful execution to rival even the impressive work of Ti West (“The House of the Devil”), arguably the best young horror filmmaker working in the genre today.

Operating from a fact-based script, Wan serves up a memorable if relatively gore-free haunted house creep fest filled with ghastly surprises in a cool '70s retro-gothic atmosphere. Although anchored by a now-clichéd paranormal-investigator plot device, Wan takes full advantage of the obvious narrative framework to escort the audience through a historically-bound hell house where a working class family find themselves trapped by an age-old malevolent spirit with a lot of ghastly history and deadly tricks up its sleeve.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are husband-and-wife paranormal investigators/authors with an off-limits basement full of possessed accouterments taken from their many encounters with the supernatural universe. An especially demonically contaminated doll sits inside its own locked glass case in their Connecticut house. Their young daughter knows better than to go into the cellar, but still can’t resist a little visit now and again.


The couple dresses in the wide collar polyester styles of the era. The pair of college-lecturing experts on things that go bump in the night could have spawned their own ‘70s TV show — imagine “Charlie’s Demon Hunters.”

Blue-collar parents Carolyn and Roger Perron (played by the oddly cast Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into a large but broken-down lakeside house in Harrisville Long Island with their five daughters. The “hateful” spooks that have inhabited the property and its land for more than a century waste no time sending a message for the family to take their leave, or else. All of the clocks stop at 3:07 am. Voices talk to the little girls. A grotesque female ghost makes frequent appearances. Pictures fall off the walls so many times that Carolyn doesn’t bother putting them back up anymore. The inexplicable murder of the family dog sends the couple to visit a nearby college where the Warrens are lecturing, in order to beg for their assistance.

Sure enough, the Warrens sense that horrible spirits possess the house during their initial visit. One malevolent spirit in particular means to bring serious harm to the newly arrived family regardless of where they attempt to run.


The Warrens return with their small team of assistants to set up cameras around the house, along with tape-recorders, to chronicle the evil that freely roams and terrorizes the innocent family. James Wan artfully employs handheld camera-work with inspired flourishes of shocking action to send goose bumps.

Lorraine is especially gifted with an ability to see into the dark spirit world, but each mysterious communication takes a toll on her — a detail that adds to the film’s sense of impending doom. Still, it’s Carolyn who is most susceptible to physical attacks from the demonic spirit at large. Shocking events transpire.


The Conjuring” backs up its creaking floor and slamming door tropes with episodes of all-out terror to send its audience to bed with a worrisome feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Nightmares may follow.  

Rated R. 112 mins. (B) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


April 28, 2013


Blood Feast
Xan Cassavetes Sinks Her Teeth In

Kiss of the DamnedVampires are by definition a retro construct. Living forever means always looking back. The future is merely a continuing cycle of corruption and death. Flesh-and-blood is the only reliable thing around. In cinema, vampire stories have served a multitude of purposes. Everything from the transmission of venereal diseases to racial and nationalistic bigotry has provided allegorical connections in a horror genre never without a sexual component.

Xan Cassavetes [daughter to the Godfather of independent cinema] pays stylish homage to vampire films of the past 40 years with a blood-soaked predator thriller based on romantic obsession — BDSM comes gratis. Aesthetic elements from Italian giallo horror films, Hammer movies, and American vampire flicks are on moist display.

Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume - “The Princess of Montpensier”) lives in a remote Connecticut mansion where she hides from the sun. The home’s absent but charitable matriarch Xenia is a Broadway diva who never does matinees. Xenia oversees a global community of well-to-do vampires whose world-weary ennui is offset by their appreciation for the finer, if quirkier, things in life.

Djuna refers to her “skin disease” after meeting Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) for the first time at a video store; it isn’t 2013. Luis Bunuel’s “Viridiana” Paolo is in town on a sabbatical to write his next big script. Needless to say, Paolo is easily distracted by Djuna’s off-kilter allure. She generously gives him fair warning before putting the bite on. She goes so far as to make him chain her to the bed during sex, but Paolo is an adventurous type. Bite him, she does.

The mechanics of the story are clear-cut. The arrival of Djuna’s bad-apple sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) threatens to derail Djuna’s and Paolo’s romantic plans to travel away to Italy together, if not bring down the whole vampire community that Xenia has protected though exotic means. Synthetic plasma is a mainstay. Another unexpected entrance — by Paolo’s overanxious agent Ben (Michael Rapaport) — gives cause for some tempestuous excitement.

Clothes come off. Fangs are bared. Bodily fluids spill in a vampire movie that is as much about tone and style as it is about the seductions and bloody attacks that take place. Cassavetes fabricates plot references to films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “All About Eve” for knowing film buffs to revel in.

A line between desire and execution is blurred to suspenseful effect, as when Djuna envisions acting out her barely tamed inner nature on an unsuspecting would-be victim. Cassavetes’s solid command of fluid cinematic language creates visual bubbles that infuse a dreamlike quality. “Kiss of the Damned” is a dark sex fantasy after all. The beard of blood that drenches down from a female vampire’s mouth is at once a humiliation and a messy acknowledgement of man’s animal nature. Decadence and debauchery are equal parts death and creation in a cool little vampire movie that makes the “Twilight” franchise look like kid stuff.

Rated R. 97 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

Click Here to Visit the FilmBlog for Artwork, Movies, Music, News, Photos, Politics, Posters, Reviews, Trailers, Videos, and More


January 15, 2013


Mother Monster
Freaky Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Frightening

MamaGuillermo del Toro — the director of such minor masterpieces as “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” — weakens his sphere of influence by producing a sorely underdeveloped horror movie that manufactures scares from the crudest of tropes. Sound effect shocks produce most of the film’s artificial jolts of fright. Del Toro endorses newcomer co-writer/director Andrés Muschietti’s efforts to engender audience gasps from a soulless computer-generated monster that make’s the Hulk look lifelike by comparison.
The set-up is topical. A suburban father of two little girls returns home after murdering his two business partners. A bullet for wifey sends the crazed man driving like a maniac on icy roads with his kidnapped daughters pleading for mercy from the back seat. The film’s money-sequence comes when the car spins out of control, eventually sending it off the side of a snowy cliff into a steep ravine. The cinematography on display is exceptional. The film never again hits such a heart-pounding crescendo.

Still able to walk, daddy carries his youngest girl Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse) deep into the woods. His older daughter Victoria (Megan Charpentier) follows them into a disused cabin where some one or some spooky thing lurks. Once inside the remote residence, the man makes a fire in the fireplace using a freshly broken chair for firewood. We can sense what’s coming next. In his hand he holds the pistol he has used to ruin his life. He doesn’t know that he shares the space with a witchlike exterminating angel with wall crawling abilities. She is Mama. She will rescue the girls and raise them as her own.

Cut to several years later. The homicidal man’s brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Walldau) has kept up a vigil to locate his nieces. Suspension of disbelief becomes harder to sustain. How could the girls have gone missing for so long? Wouldn’t the authorities have sent out search teams during the crisis? Here’s the kicker. The monster-raised girls crawl and jump around like spiders on acid. Their verbal skills are minimal.

Lucas and his Goth rock bass-playing girlfriend Annabel (played by an unrecognizable Jessica Chastain in dyed hair and heavy eyeliner) battle for custody in spite of the fact that neither seems to possess much maternal or paternal instinct. They live in a glorified man cave. Musical gear and big rusty signs adorn their bedroom. Lucas’s nasty sister seems better suited to take on the challenge of adapting the wild children to the demands of civilized behavior. However, a ghost-in-the-machine plot device arrives via clinical psychologist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash), who offers up a research-provided suburban house where the young couple can raise the girls under his supervision. The green-skinned, alien-faced Mama follows the girls to their new residence to set up shop. Her insect-mind intentions are unclear.

Although the story is set in Richmond, Virginia, the movie never gives so much as a glimpse of that historic town’s iconic personality. The filmmakers could have at least taken a spin down Monument Avenue for crying out loud. A conscious lack of narrative distinction permeates every aspect of the story. Clunky desaturated flashback sequences attempt to tell Mama’s tale of persecution that led her to jump from a cliff while holding onto her infant child. Any empathy the audience might share with the jealous creature is blunted by its grotesque appearance and penchant for unwarranted violence against whosoever comes near the girls.

At best, “Mama” is a subpar PG-rated monster movie. At worst, it represents a desperate grasp for relevance by a once-inspired filmmaker [Guillermo del Toro] relegated to producing entry-level films for far less talented auteurs.

Rated PG-13. 100 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

Click Here to Visit the FilmBlog for Artwork, Movies, Music, News, Photos, Politics, Posters, Reviews, Trailers, Videos, and More

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series