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The Conjuring: Old School Creep Fest!

Published August 4, 2013 by rmpixie

the conjuring

The Conjuring (2013, 1 hr 52 mins)

As you may know, I have a great love for paranormal reality T.V shows like Scariest Places on Earth (with host Linda Blair), Most Haunted, Paranormal State, and more recently Ghost Mine, Paranormal Witness, and American Haunting .  Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (most famously known for investigating the Amityville house) were consultants on a few of these programs in the early 2000’s and Lorraine more recently, giving their insight and advice on many haunted or paranormal incidents.  This was my first exposure to the paranormal duo, and I was so excited when I heard there was a movie being made about them by James Wan (who also directed Saw, Insidious and their sequels), a worthy director in my eyes.

Even though The Conjuring is a re-enactment of true events, this film is special because it goes for broke and is incredibly authentic.  I’m going to rank it in my top 5 films of this year and also the top 5 for darn good scares. We are taken to 1971 where a series of paranormal events plague the Rhode Island home of the Perron family.  Ed and Lorraine (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively) are portrayed as seasoned investigators, with Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities and Ed’s demonologist expertise taking them from lectures, haunted objects and homes where they debunk or confiscate “conduits” where needed (if you have a doll phobia, this movie will freak you out).  When they are approached by a terrified wife and mother Carolyn Perron for their help, they can’t say no, and descend into a world of classic haunting fare, major creepiness and a battle for innocent souls.

This pixie is a stickler for details and so was the production team for this film.  Having grown up in the 70’s immediately makes me nostalgic for that era and all its trappings.  The Perron home was reminiscent of every house I’ve lived in during my childhood:   old plaster walls, bad lighting, and creaky wooden floors.  Oh yes, and the creepy, cement floored cellar.  The wardrobe was spot on, down to the high collared, embroidered nightgowns that I got every Christmas, and Vera’s wardrobe really represented Lorraine to at T since I have seen her wearing ruffled shirts to this day.   I also remember having those weird ceramic-like mugs with the screened florals on the side which were staples in every kitchen in the 70’s, including the Perrons’.  The movie almost felt like it was made in that era.  That helped set the tone for a classic horror film, as well as the creepy scoring by Joseph Bishara (who also played the angry entity Bathsheba) which included the old school “horror tuba” (my name for it) that I love so much.

The performances were pretty incredible.  In my eyes, Lily Taylor can do no wrong.  My sis and I were talking about her career, and we remember her in Mystic PizzaSay Anything,  Six Feet Under, and more recently Hemlock Grove.  Her heartfelt portrayal of Carolyn Perron was convincing and made me cringe with anticipation when the shit hit the proverbial fan. Vera Farmiga got Lorraine’s tone of voice and mannerisms down pat, and Patrick Wilson?  So dreamy, and I can’t say I didn’t like him saying my name with such intensity.   Just wished it wasn’t under such um, soul sucking circumstances .  The girls who played the 5 daughters were pretty amazing as they kept the fear and intensity at a constant, and Ron Livingston held his own as the bewildered father and husband Roger who just wanted his family safe.

I don’t shriek and tell, but if you are sharp, you will see the real Lorraine Warren’s cameo somewhere in the film.  I am also so glad that she was a consultant on the film and met with the lead actors.   Sadly, Ed Warren is no longer with us on this plane after his death in 2006,  but Lorraine has said that he wanted her to continue the paranormal work.  That little lady has a lot of spirit (please excuse the pun) and wisdom, and I believe she is still doing the occasional investigation (the last one I saw was on Paranormal State).   You can check out some interesting links here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4WvDfLYr74

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJfeN2Kej-0

http://www.warrens.net/Warrens-Bio.html

Andrea Perron, the eldest daughter from the Perron family, discusses the happenings and her book House of Darkness, House of Light.  Very interesting background on the actual events:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9VtUo9q2NI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfNrDYJ72KI

I highly recommend seeing The Conjuring as I think it harnesses old school horror with conviction and from what I’ve gathered, stays respectful to all involved in the actual events.

Zombie Warm and Fuzzies (Not!)

Published June 30, 2013 by rmpixie

warm bodies

Warm Bodies (2013, 1 hr, 38 mins)

I must warn you.  This is not going to be a pleasant post.  It will, in fact, be a zombie rant.  I don’t know if I would call myself a purist, but I like my zombies a certain way.  Be it in a comedy or a gruesome throat-biting, blood spurting romp, I feel zombies should get a little respect, kind of like the tough kid in the playground.  Back in my day, you gave him/her space, ran if they notice you, and stood your ground if they caught up to you.  There have been plenty of successful attempts to create a different view of zombies within reason, such as Shaun of the Dead and In The Flesh.  Two well done, brilliantly written (and both British) takes on zombies on either side of the spectrum.  And then there is of course, The Walking Dead, which goes without saying:  your traditional survival of the fittest, zombies vs. us deal that has me and millions of fans hooked.  Even the 2004 low-budget Zombie Honeymoon brought us a creative take on zombies.  Each represent zombies with respect to the genre and the proper fear, loathing, or comedy that doesn’t dull their iconic place in horror.

Imagine my delight when I heard about Warm Bodies, a rom-com take on the zombie experience.  Of course I missed it in the theatres (because I’d rather stay at home where it’s safe), and was looking forward to seeing it when it came out on DVD.  Well, fellow horror fan, that delight was short-lived.  You will learn why in a few.

The film is about ‘R’ (Nicholas Hoult), a handsome young zombie fellow, who gives us his point of view of life as a zombie.  He gives us an inside look with a voice over of what it’s like to be the walking dead, some stuck in a loop of what they were before their untimely death due to a plague that took over 8 years ago.  The living stay entrenched in The City, a walled section of a sprawling metropolis that they protect ferociously from the ongoing zombie threat.  Julie, a lovely blonde Kirsten Stewart look-alike (Teresa Palmer) is part of the patrol and her father, Grigio (John Malkovich) is the militant head of The City.  R and Julie meet during a fateful battle where he eats her boyfriend’s brain and kidnaps her in order to keep her out of the jaws of his zombie colleagues, because you see, R has feelings-or a semblance of them.  He falls in love with her on sight, and by eating her boyfriend’s brain, his love is reinforced since her boyfriend’s memories become his.  R basically holds Julie hostage, citing the need to have the other zombies forget about her after her attempts to escape has brought attention to her living flesh.  So of course, R, being the music-loving, collector zombie that he is, shows her a good time in his airplane bunker.  Julie then suffers from what I can only call zombie Stockholm Syndrome and slowly begins to warm up to him ’cause he’s different, and R realizes he is becoming more human.  Cue the fun montage of Julie teaching R how to drive, playing records and dress up, and committing utter blasphemy by having a DVD of the 1979 classic Zombie in a scene.  Hey Julie, can’t you smell your boyfriend’s brains in R’s pockets?  Not leaving a stain?  Can’t smell R’s decaying flesh breath?  No?  O.K., whatevs.

The movie soon spirals into saccharine, feel-good, Romeo and Juliet territory that often made me retch and dry heave.  Love will warm the flesh of even a zombie.  Um, last time I checked, love don’t pay the rent, so making a zombie human?  Tall order.  Oh yes, and it’s not just R that feels the love.  His fellow zombies are starting to get the warm and fuzzies too (cue that Neil Diamond song about your heartlight).  Ugh.  The only things I like about this movie were the “bad” zombies, or “Boneys”-zombies who were too far gone, skeletal and real hungry.  They proved to be a threat for the “good” zombies and humans alike; forcing them to unit and feel the love.  I actually wanted to drive the Boneys into battle myself in a lowrider caddy (with hydraulics, blasting some Snoop Dog) just to stop the nonsense.

Here’s the thing.  I actually liked the idea of zombies retaining some sort of intelligence, but the returning to humanity was a bit of a stretch as zombies are traditionally motivated by instinct and hunger, not emotion (check out the 2008 indie film Colin for a more traditional zombie p.o.v) Although I haven’t read it yet, there is no doubt in my mind that the book is great.  I just hate movie adaptations that dumb down the story and force a sentiment on the viewer.  This movie made me feel like I was invited to play laser tag and ended up at bible study.  Not even John Malkovich, Rob Corddry ( R’s friend ‘M’) and Analeigh Tipton (who played Julie’s friend Nora), all of whom I love, could save this flick for me.  I don’t know what else to say, except that the only winners for me in this film were the Boneys, who ain’t no phoneys.  At least they were honest (and hungry).

One of my boney dawgs keeping it real!

One of my Boney dawgs keeping it real!

Most Memorable Line:  When besties Julie and Nora dish about R, Nora says, “I  mean, I know it’s really hard to meet guys right now, with the apocalypse stuff. Trust me.”  You haven’t been to Toronto, sister.  Dating after an apocalypse amidst the zombies and roaches sounds just dreamy compared to dating in this town.

Most Hateful Scene:  has to be hands down the heinous Pygmalion-esque “Let’s Make R Look Like A Real Boy!” scene.  I think the intention was tongue in cheek, but it just brought bile to mouth.  Sorry folks, didn’t work for me.

Dark Skies and Crumbling Dreams

Published June 23, 2013 by rmpixie

darkskies

 

Fellow Horror fans, my apologies for not posting something sooner.  I suffered a lack of inspiration and couldn’t find my kitsch appreciation groove.  It was a flat-line for a while, and I looked for days for something to watch; sometimes stopping midway during a film that I couldn’t bear to finish, which is rare since I’ll watch anything!  Never fear though, as I have a renewed interest and there seems to be some great films out there, so this pixie is happy again!

One film I was interested in was Dark Skies.  I saw this come out a few months ago, and missed it in the theatres, so I was anxiously awaiting the dvd release. I am glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this moody, alien abduction story.

Lacy and Daniel Barrett (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) seem to lead an idyllic, boring suburban life.  Two sons, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett), a nice house and barbeques on the weekends.  It’s great, except for the fact that Daniel, who was laid off, can’t find a job and Lacy, a real estate agent, can’t sell any houses.  They are also plagued by bizarre, nightly happenings. Each night, the events get stranger, and every day, the family becomes more stressed. Food scattered and half eaten on the kitchen floor, various household items impossibly stacked to the ceiling and a disturbing bird incident seem like mild annoyances after weird seizures start to affect the entire family.  When there is evidence of abuse with their sons, Lacy and Daniel are pushed to believe that these events aren’t coming from the boys, a prankster, stress or even this planet.  Enlisting the help of Edwin Pollard (J. K. Simmons), an abduction and alien expert, Lacy and Daniel prepare to accept the unbelievable, and hopefully get their life back.

I liked the mundane, suburban backdrop for this alien abduction story.  The American dream of raising a family and having a ‘normal’ life becomes a nightmare.  The aliens and the disruptions they create are a great metaphor for the lack of control over our lives in general.  I think this film got panned generally because some reviewers thought it was either too clichéd or was a thinly veiled dissertation on right-wing fears of being invaded by foreigners.  I see it as a tad tongue in cheek.  Most plod along only hoping for the house, the car, the job and 2.5 kids.  When things don’t happen as we expect, who you gonna blame, “India and China”? That’s who Daniel’s ‘everyman’ neighbour blames.  But no, it’s not “them” (gasp!).  What better explanation for kids acting up, stress on a marriage, and medical oddities than aliens?  I am a fan of the show Ancient Aliens (and have a secret crush on Giorgio Tsoukalos-the crazy hair guy) where scholars give compelling evidence of aliens being here all along.  Heck, some believe we carry alien DNA.  Who am I to argue?  Better to blame the aliens than ourselves.  I actually like to blame “The Man” myself, who just may have a slightly gray pallor to his skin and lots of probes…but I digress.

Director Scott Stewart (who also directed Priest and Legion), did a decent job with the mood of Dark Skies.  Although I though the pacing was a tad slow, you could feel the foreboding tension building as we move through the story, and I loved the simplicity of the film.  Special effects were minimal but effective to make this story believable, and I found the stark quality to each scene brought the characters and their emotions to the forefront.  And speaking of characters, I though the cast did a good job in portraying the regular suburban family, but the stand out for me was J. K. Simmons.  I have been a fan of his since OZ where he played Vern Schillinger, the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and someone you just loved to hate.  Usually he nails various gruff, abrasive roles, but this time around, he is very quiet and subdued.  His character Pollard is quite different from the clichéd alien conspiracy theorist.  He believes because he knows.  He has given in to the reality of aliens among us and also lives with a bunch of cats which is great in my books.  Pollard has only a few moments in the film, but he brings in a touch of comedy and is a great transition to the tense finale.

Dark Skies is a great addition to the abduction genre.  Stewart creates an interesting film that takes everyday family stresses in the all American clueless home and gives them a more sinister origin.  Definitely makes you think about that weird mosquito bite, or why that bird keeps looking at you funny…

Favourite Scene:  When Lacy learns that dogs will go berserk when aliens are near, she races to the local pound.  Stopping in front of a particularly nutso German Shepherd named Clive who is described as “Aggressive!!!”, she makes a clipped statement rather than a question, “What about this one?…yeah” to son Jesse.  Yeah, Clive will do.

Most Memorable Line:  When talking to Pollard about why they have been chosen by the aliens, Lacy asks, “What makes us so special?”, to which he flatly replies, “Nothing.”  It’s true.  The aliens are just messing with us because we are boring lab rats.  Not like we’ve solved any problems here on Earth, or stopped any wars for world peace, or treat each other any better.  Earth is probably the worst truck stop in the universe…

 

Haunted House Gone Rogue

Published February 26, 2013 by rmpixie

Sinister-tribute.ca

Sinister (2012, 1 hr, 50 mins)

I like a film with an unexpected twist, which is usually the core of a good horror movie.  I admit that I am often trying to figure out the formula within the first 5 to 10 minutes of a movie, and I can guess a plot around 60% of the time.  With Sinister, I was way off.

We start off with a jarring film of 4 people with sacks over their heads and nooses around their necks, hanging from a massive tree.  Your eye catches a slow movement, and you realize that a branch has been rigged to slowly strangle them as it drops to the ground. Our attention is then snapped back to true crime writer, Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moving his family into a new home as he embarks on a new writing project.  This new home has a dark and horrific past and he plans to write a book about it.  He seems hopeful that this story and mystery about a missing child will bring him a boost to his stagnating career and ego.  His drive also leads him to keep the house’s past a secret from his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylant), and to show defiance to the local sheriff, who makes it clear that Ellison is not welcome.  His previous books have exposed incompetency within the police force and he is not popular with the law.

Things get creepy right away with the ominous presence of the massive broken tree towering over the house, a box of film reels that Ellison finds in the attic, and your friendly neighbourhood scorpion, which he quickly dispatches.  When he watches these films, he is horrified to see that they are home movies of happy families and the graphic ways in which they are murdered.  Reel after reel shows drownings, burnings, slashings and the most recent hangings from the backyard tree that terrify and push Ellison for answers.  The two burning questions haunt him:  “Who made the film?” and “Where is Stephanie?”, the missing child in question.  These mysteries isolate him from his family, and lead him to the bottle.  The house is also downright creepy, and his wife Tracy is frustrated with his hunger for success and lack of attention to his family.  More is revealed as Ellison enlists the help of a quirky deputy (James Ransone) and a university professor named Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio).  He finds out that Stephanie is not the only missing child, and that there is a chilling demon-like presence in each film (to be precise, a “Mr. Boogie” who ain’t dancin’).  Add an unhappy daughter, a son that suffers from severe night terrors, snakes, angry dogs, and ghost-like entities, and we have the recipe for a downward spiral into obsessive koo-koo land.

When this film first starts with the home movie of a hanging, I thought, “What the hell?!!  What am I seeing here?!!”  It made me want to watch, despite the gruesome subject matter and my dislike for Ethan Hawke.  However, after the intriguing first moments, the film got a tad formulaic, with one haunted house cliché stacked upon another, and I also found the buildup to be a little slow.  Once it got going, though, I liked the twist that was revealed just as the pace was getting a bit tiresome.  I enjoyed feeling tricked by all the clichés as I pointed the finger at almost all the slightly suspicious characters and was totally off course.  I also loved the ’70’s feel to the production and the incredible scoring by Christopher Young that highlighted Ellison’s isolated, insular experience of his obsession and a general sense of foreboding.  Ethan Hawke was pretty convincing as a man desperate to be successful and do right by his family.  I didn’t quite understand the longed haired ’70’s rock star look of Ellison’s son, Trevor.  I was also not a fan of the children.  I don’t want to give away too much, but lets just say that the camera lingered a tad too long on them in a couple of scenes, which in the past has elicited extreme giggles from me at moments which are meant to be chilling.  I still think it was an origninal idea from director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote the film with C. Robert Cargill, and also directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the upcoming Beware the Night.  I would recommend sticking it out to the end.

Most Memorable Scene:  As Ellison hears bumps in the night, he runs through the house searching for a source, as unseen entities play a haunting game of hide and seek around him.  Great camera effects!

Favourite Line:  “Snakes don’t have feet.”  The quirky deputy explains to Ellison after he reports noises coming from the attic and finds a snake up there.  Thanks dude, real perceptive!

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