Good Scares!

All posts in the Good Scares! category

IT Breaks the Remake Curse

Published September 12, 2017 by vfdpixie

It (2017, 2 hrs 15 mins)

We all know by now that Stephen King is one of the most prolific horror writers of the 21st century. Along with his incredible library of terrors comes film adaptions. Some are classics like Christine, The Dead Zone, Carrie and The Shining, and some were not so great like Sleepwalkers (although a cat does save the day), Dreamcatcher, and Secret Window. Being a fan since my teens, I’ve read a lot of his books and watched the good and bad films. One of my favourites has to be It. This chilling book told the tale of a clown that terrorized a small town in Maine and its children every 27 years. When the TV mini-series adaptation was aired in 1990, I was there with bells on and loved it. Fast forward to this summer where Andy Muschietti, director of Mama, took the helm to create a modern take on the demonic clown. I was a little skeptical since I had mixed feelings about Mama, but this director has an aesthetic that I like, so I was willing to give it a go. I’m pleased to say that he has done a more than successful job in modernizing the mini-series into a fast-paced horror movie, destined to create new fans and please the old ones of Stephen King’s work.

The town of Derry is seemingly peaceful and a great place to raise a family, but there is a darkness that dwells there. Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill Denbrough’s (Jaden Lieberher) brother has gone missing after being lured into a sewer by a menacing clown. Given up for dead, the town puts a curfew in place to save other children from going missing as they try to figure out what happened, but 7 young misfits know better. They have all been tormented by the clown in their waking life, being lured and taunted by him; becoming his inevitable prey as he feeds off their fears. When they realized they’ve all encountered this clown known as Pennywise, they band together to defeat this evil entity.

From L to R: Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Bill (Jaden Lieberher), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor). Photo credit: IMDb

King has a way of conveying an incredible sense of nostalgia with his books, and luckily films like Stand by Me and The Green Mile were in the hands of competent directors who created visual testaments to King’s skill. The 1990 version of It directed by Tommy Lee Wallace works well too, tapping into the schoolyard fears of being bullied and not having the idyllic childhood that so many strive for. I also enjoyed the introduction of characters as adults and their encounters with the dreaded Pennywise in flashbacks. In the 2017 version, we get only the childhood battle with the demon clown, but here instead of a timeline from the late 1950s to the mid 1980s-early 90s, the kids are based in the 80s.

Everything 80s is new again, from the hit Netflix series Stranger Things to popular bands touring for their now adult fans. The writing team of Cary Fukunaga (director of HBO’s True Detective), Gary Dauberman (writer of both Annabelle films), and Chase Palmer were extremely smart about the setting of the remake. Instead of regurgitating the same timelines from the original and making a static revamp mired in a world that is further removed from our generation, they made the timeline dynamic because it holds so much meaning to many of us that grew up in that era, tapping into a visceral feeling of that same nostalgia King is so brilliant at. It translates really well, especially with the music choices, and we all relate to the kids in the film because it felt like we were all there. They also took great pains to encapsulate the episodic TV representation, streamlining action and changing some moments to make things fresh while still capturing the same feel of childhood uncertainty that comes with being a preteen.

Pennywise has become iconic because of Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal. Everyone remembers the scary clown’s grimacing mouth filled to the brim with razor-sharp teeth. Those are large clown shoes to fill, but Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job channeling the essence of the evil Pennywise and at the same time making it his own. His handsome young face is unrecognizable under the clown makeup and prosthetics; his voice is eerily childlike, cartoonish and menacing all at once. The ensemble cast that makes up this modern “Loser’s Club” was engaging, sharp and had the best chemistry. Finn Wolfhard embodied the cut-up Richie with a wit that made me forget he’s the kid from Stranger Things. Lieberher and Chosen Jacobs both worked well as Bill and Mike respectively; embracing the sensitivity of the two characters, and Jeremy Ray Taylor will break your heart as the awkward and love-struck Ben. Last but not least, Sophia Lillis was tomboyish and feminine with a wonderful strength that updated the original interpretation of Beverly.

Oh that Pennywise! (Bill Skarsgard)

My only criticism is that Beverly ends up being the damsel in distress that the boys must save after we see her come through as a fighter and survivor of abuse, as well as the unifying, peace-keeping member of the group. It’s contradictory, but in the book, it’s worse when she offers herself up to the boys in a weird sexual bonding scene to unite the group. Other than her needing to be rescued, the new Beverly stands up for herself making this portrayal the lesser of two evils.

If you’re looking for a relevant walk down memory lane, It is a must-see. With the film’s current box office take of 123 million dollars, and a sequel focusing on the kids as adults back to battle Pennywise in the works, horror has clearly made its place in the theatres. I keep saying (and will continue to say) movie-goers are hungry for content, and even though this is a remake of a classic, it’s well done and worth the cost of a movie ticket.

 

Annabelle: Creation – A Little Sugar, a Dash of Spice and Heaps of Brimstone!

Published August 24, 2017 by vfdpixie

 

Annabelle: Creation (2017, 1 hr, 49 mins.)

Our favourite possessed doll is back! After seeing her terrorize a family with her demonic presence in Annabelle (2014), of course the creators had to give us an origins story. I mean, it’s only fair, right? Horror producer extraordinaire James Wan and his horror universe needed to give the satanic doll her due with a full back story, and that’s what we get in Annabelle: Creation.

Taking place in 1943, 24 years before the first Annabelle film, we meet Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), a doll maker hard at work in his shop. He has a mischievous daughter Bee (Samara Lee), who is doted on by him and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The family is well-loved by their community and Sam is known for his skill. When they lose Bee in a terrible car accident, they are devastated and mourn their loss for 12 years.  The couple become reclusive but come out of their grieving to open up their home to six orphaned girls and their nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) after their orphanage closed down.

Kate (Taylor Buck), Tierney (Lou Lou Safron), Linda (Lulu Wilson)Nancy (Philippa Coulthard), and Carol (Grace Fulton) as the orphaned girls.
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac Dune Entertainment 2017.

The girls can’t believe their good luck as they explore the huge house, thrilled with all the places to explore. Mr. Mullins is sombre but glad to have them there, only banning them from two rooms: Mrs. Mullins’ who suffered an injury from a mysterious incident years before and stays behind closed doors, and their dead daughter’s locked bedroom. Despite their odd hosts, the girls look to the future and hope for adoption, especially Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson). Their bond has made them best friends and they hope to be adopted by the same family. Janice is recovering from polio, so her braced leg makes them both worry that she will be overlooked.

Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto).
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RatPac Dune Entertainment 2017.

When Janice wakes one night to find Bee’s bedroom unlocked, her exploration reveals a closet with a doll, our Annabelle, hidden inside. Once discovered, the demonic Annabelle unleashes her powers on the unsuspecting girls and torments the Mullins’, haunting them with the terrible mistake they made years before.

Janice (Bateman) and Annabelle getting acquainted
Photo credit: Warner Bros. 2017

The first two acts of Annabelle Creation give you a decent build up with a couple of jump scares to draw your attention back should you feel you’ve seen/heard this type of thing before. It’s almost as if director David F. Sandberg, who also directed Lights Out, gave you a couple of “I saw that coming” moments to pepper the building tension. The final act is a total horror movie playhouse, with nail-biting action, lots of well-placed scares and a nod to the real Annabelle doll to boot.

The young cast delivered some great performances worthy of a good old popcorn horror flick, and it was nice to see film and TV veterans LaPaglia and Otto back on the big screen. The angelic Bateman had to channel some major badness when Janice changes for the worse, and Wilson was just as good playing her conflicted best friend.  I must say that I was also excited to see Joseph Bishara play a demon again. With his talents used in Insidious and The Conjuring as various supernatural creatures, this composer and actor has stolen my monster heart. Look to him for giving the audience guaranteed willies with just a glimpse of his demonic grimace.

While I’m all for the indie or obscure vintage horror film, I love a good horror franchise. I enjoy revisiting the lore of monsters and recurring characters no matter how schlocky things get, and Sandberg gives us solid prequel to Annabelle. The fact that Annabelle Creation doesn’t do anything new shouldn’t stop you from seeing it, and for those who hated the first Annabelle film, they should know this second installment is really good.  Their ranking makes me think of the Ouija films. I disliked the first film Ouija that came out in 2014 for its weak story which was widely panned, but the prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) starring Lulu Wilson, was definitely stronger and gave us some really creepy scenes. It’s no wonder the second film was well-received since Mike Flanagan of the indie hits Absentia and Oculus fame directed and co-wrote it.

With a reported 1 billion made in total for The Conjuring series according to Variety.com, you could argue that these prequels and sequels are made for money not substance, but Wan has succeeded in bringing horror fans consistent films in his Conjuring universe with heroes and villains you want to see more of.  He also mines the very indie directors we support out here in horror land, taps into subject matter that has a wealth of material, and he hit the bull’s-eye with Annabelle. Who doesn’t want to see a great origin story about one of the creepiest haunted antiques that still sits in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s Occult Museum to this day?

To sum it up, there’s no shame in saying Annabelle Creation is a fun Friday night horror movie that does the Annabelle story justice and leads to another potentially solid addition to The Conjuring franchise (If you haven’t figured out what that means, you’ll have to stay right until the very, very end of the credits).  Go see it now!

 

Prevenge-A Shudder Canada Exclusive Coming March 24th!

Published March 20, 2017 by vfdpixie

Prevenge (2016, 1 hr 28 mins)

Alice Lowe as Ruth wreaking havoc maternity style.

When a woman carries a child, one can only imagine the range of emotions that she feels, from joy to fear to a sense of wonder at the life growing inside her. Only she knows how she feels, and only she has that special connection with her unborn child. But what if that connection is a sinister one; one of murderous intentions and revenge? This is the story that director and writer Alice Lowe brings to us in the dark horror comedy Prevenge. Making its way through the film fest circuit including TIFF 2016 and SXSW this year, you can now see it as a Shudder Canada Exclusive set to launch on March 24th.

Ruth (Alice Lowe) is a pregnant woman grieving the death of her partner. She is shell-shocked, alone, and on the surface, void of emotion. Inside, however, she listens to the nagging voice her unborn child, who forces her to become a serial killer out for vengeance. Ruth keeps a baby scrapbook, but instead of baby’s first ultrasound, there are notes and crudely drawn pictures of her targets. Her vengeance goes into overdrive as the twisted little life inside provokes her to kill these unsuspecting people who, to her, held great significance with the fate of her lost husband.

Absurd conversations and laugh out loud moments comprises this darkly clever film. With plenty of double meanings in the script, is also a thing of reflection as motives and a gross contradiction come into play. The notion that a pregnant woman about to bring a life into the world is also taking lives in most unpleasant ways toys with our sensibilities, conventions and taboos about a mother-to-be.

The nature of this pregnancy is truly parasitic. I have never been pregnant, and never will be, but the idea of being at the mercy of an organism living inside you is an awe-inspiring and scary prospect. I can only imagine what it would feel like to be ruled by something growing inside you: what to drink, what to eat and how you feel dictated every moment by a little interloper in your belly, and Ruth plays host to a rather nasty baby, or so it seems. Her telling appointment with midwife Nurse Jenny (Jo Hartley) is hilarious and chilling at the same time as she tells Ruth that her unborn daughter has all the control and “baby will tell you what to do.” Does this statement push her over the edge, or is the baby really using her as a puppet of mass destruction? We’re not quite sure what to believe about Ruth’s mental state, but it’s a truly interesting ride to say the least.

Alice Lowe is best known for her extensive comedy work, writing and acting in several British television and film projects, especially the 2012 black comedy Sightseers which she also co-wrote. She’s well versed in finding humour in the horrific, and Prevenge is that and much more. It’s a study of what someone who is grieving from loss may feel in an extreme situation, and for all the laughs the film provides, it’s also deeply emotional. Ruth has lost her partner and she is alone with a baby on the way exhibiting some not-so-normal tendencies.

According to an interview from this past February in The Guardian, Lowe reportedly wrote the script in 2 weeks and shot the film in 11 days while she was actually pregnant. For a first time director who has also written and starred in her own film, that’s no small feat, and her cast was just as effective as Lowe herself. With familiar faces like Hartley of David Brent: Life on the Road, and Kate Dickie of The Witch, you’ll enjoy seeing them take part in this darkly humorous fiasco. Pay attention to the throbbing synth scoring by Toydrum and some great cinematic moments, one of which had very distant echoes of the insane subway scene in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981).

For her directorial debut, Alice Lowe went with what she knew (well, sort of anyway). Prevenge is a study of the fears of being a new mother and the grieving process in a most surprising way. Be sure to see it when it launches exclusively on Shudder Canada this Friday!

 

Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by vfdpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

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