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Try The Exorcist TV Series For Your Halloween Scares

Published October 31, 2016 by vfdpixie

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The Exorcist is quite a horror phenomenon. In 1971, it began as a best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty about a possessed little girl and the fight to expel the demon within her. Blatty was inspired to write the book after he researched the real life case of a boy who was allegedly possessed by a demon in 1949. A few years later in 1973, Blatty adapted his novel to become one of the most iconic horror movies in the world. Directed by William Friedkin, it is not only considered to be one of the most frightening films of all times, but it was the first horror film to be nominated for best film at the 1974 Academy Awards.

The accolades for The Exorcist navigated around more than its fair share of criticism and fear-mongering; with battles to create a version that the censors deemed acceptable to play in theatres and protests over the broken taboos and lines crossed in the film adaptation. There are images that will stay with both horror fans and those repelled by the grim subject matter forever: Regan’s head spin, her spider-walk down the stairs, the projectile vomiting and chilling levitations. All of these scenes have since been duplicated but have never matched the initial terror and shock they invoked. When word got out that there was a T.V. series in the works to air this Fall, I felt fairly certain that they couldn’t do the film’s ominous nature justice on the small screen, even though television has become a much better medium for storytelling in the past few years.

Take for example the now defunct Damien series. This show was also a modernization of the hit 1976 film The Omen written by David Seltzer and directed by Richard Donner. I was curious but cautious since this was a classic and one of my favourite horror films. After the first two episodes, I was hooked. The modern spin of an adult Damien Thorn coming to terms with his Satanic lineage, plus the participation of horror veteran Barbara Hershey and a great cast was an injection of new life for the story of Satan’s son walking the earth. Week after week, the plot became darker and darker, with some brilliantly frightening scenes and performances. I especially liked the character of Sister Greta Fraueva played by Robin Weigert who brought a fresh spin to Damien’s religious hunters. Just as we were left with an incredible season finale, the show was cancelled. I was hugely disappointed, and I still have hopes that one of the streaming services will pump some money into the series and revive it.

Having seen Damien, I was tentatively hopeful about The Exorcist series.  In this incarnation, Angela Rance (Geena Davis) is a successful business woman in Chicago. She has two beautiful daughters with her husband Henry (Alan Ruck) who is recovering from a head injury. He has lucid moments, but is usually checked out and must be supervised. Angela and her family are regulars at father Tomas Ortega’s (Alfonso Herrera) parish, and is fond of the young priest. When she notices unusual activity in her home, she calls on him for help. Father Tomas has his own issues to deal with, but when he sees first hand evidence of a demonic presence in the Rance home, he must battle bureaucracy and his faith, enlisting the help of a reluctant retired exorcist Father Keane (Ben Daniels) to save the family from the supernatural threat.

I am now past the 5th episode and actually blown away with the writing, but it was touch and go for a brief moment.  Up until this point, I enjoyed the characters with the introduction of a priest with wavering faith, and a family with unexplained occurrences plaguing them.  The demonic manifestations were by the book too, but the writers took care with the details (since the devil is in them, of course!). Little things like smart phones capturing an intense event on the subway, honest reactions to exorcism, fun references to the original film, and great but subtle special effects.  In the middle of the 5th episode, however, I was almost going to tap out because some possession tropes began to sneak in, making me skeptical.  Thankfully, I was jarred out of that feeling quickly.  Without spoiling, I advise you to stick it out until the end of episode 5 for some shocking events and revelations that will make you wish the next installment was downloading in your brain immediately.

The show is also cast well. Davis always commands the screen, and Herrera is fantastic as the young priest who may be losing his way. It’s a pleasant surprise to see him in something after his Sense8 role. It is also nice to see Alan Ruck as Angela’s struggling husband. This Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vet serves as a great vessel for limitless plot twists. Also keep your eye on Hanna Kasulka and Brianne Howey who play sisters Casey and Kat respectively. Their dynamic plus the tortured Casey is classic horror material.

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The final verdict? This Halloween, get to your T.V. or computer and catch up with the show if you haven’t already started from day one.  I’m really curious where they go from here and I hope they keep the twists coming. It’s a solid, modernized version of a classic horror movie that needs viewer support. Don’t let it become another great horror TV show that goes the way of premature cancellation.

The Exorcist airs Friday nights on the Fox network at 9:00 p.m. in the U.S. and C.T.V same day and time in Canada. Catch up on episodes here:

http://www.fox.com/the-exorcist (U.S.)

http://www.ctv.ca/The-Exorcist (Canada)

The Witch puts Horror on Trial

Published March 1, 2016 by vfdpixie

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The Witch (2015, 1 hr 32 mins.)

 

The hype machine has created yet another horror frenzy with the 2015 festival favourite, The Witch. Much like the Salem Witch Trials, hysteria surrounding this film snowballed, spreading stories of disturbing scenes and terror throughout the festival circuit. I myself wrung my hands in despair when I couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out screening at TIFF this past summer, feeling like I was missing the horror film of the year.   What emerged from the frenzy was a question about what creates horror in a film, and an apparent polarizing of horror fans.

Set in 1630, a puritanical family is banished from a communal plantation for their religious beliefs and claim a place for themselves in a remote forest valley. The family experiences a horrible setback when their infant son vanishes under his adolescent sister Thomasin’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) watch.  They are under great stress as the crops fail, food is scarce, and they grieve the loss of the baby.  Suspicions soon take hold as the family suspect Thomasin is a witch, and when her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappears, they all descend into despair, paranoia and disbelief as accusations fly and things come to a shocking and bitter conclusion.

Director Robert Eggers painstakingly made a film that stayed as true to the era of his story as possible. From the costumes to the language and sets, he recreated a time that saw a narrow vision of the world and religion. There were very real things to fear, like the elements and disease, but nothing is as frightening as the unknown.  Here it poses as the Devil and his witch minions, who could be blamed for a multitude of sins so-to-speak, since these pilgrims didn’t know much else.  Witches and the Devil were their Freddy and Jason back then, and to them it was a very real fear, with salvation and comfort only coming from God.  Eggers also artfully weaves in traditional fairy tale elements amidst the real struggle the family faces; using those stories as a relevant source of horror relatable to the era.  The performances were excellent, especially from Taylor-Joy and the range of emotions Scrimshaw exhibits.  His soon-to-be infamous possession scene is hugely admirable for his young age.

Now, this story wasn’t water-tight. There were opportunities that, without giving away spoilers, could have utilized the mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) in a way that would have travelled down a more traditional horror route, and perhaps made more sense in a literal way, but it didn’t.  If it had, I think horror fans would have felt more satisfied with the overall film, instead of struggling for a grasp on the horror angle.

The verdict? I liked The Witch and my boyfriend did not.  First off, don’t expect a literal horror.  I did, and along with my boyfriend, we kept waiting for that “horror moment” that never really appeared.  After I relaxed my horror expectations, however, I began to enjoy it for the fairy tale aspects and the medieval woodcutting look.  I have forever been a huge fan of the morbidly violent and creepy tones of Brothers Grimm fairy tales.  The axes swung too and fro, the heads rolled and the innocent suffered often; escapades that have been sugar-coated and softened through the centuries.  Eggers doesn’t do that here.  The witch is a true crone, with seductive wiles and a bloodthirsty stealth that drives this family to mistrust and madness.  It’s a fairy tale at its stark best, from the cinematography to the harsh realities of the wilderness and the living conditions. The fantasy is rinsed off, leaving a brutal uneasiness that turns into a pleasurable weirdness at the end.

As I said before, my boyfriend had no time for this movie. He felt it he was being sold something that didn’t deliver, in his words.  He is a true cinephile, with an enormous love for horror as well as having extremely varied tastes in cinema.  Even though this was a slow-burn horror, which he is familiar with and enjoys as much as a slasher film, he felt that he was promised a terrifying experience that didn’t deliver.  We both read many an article that criticized the horror fans who disliked the film, calling them “narrow-minded” for not being impressed with the art house offering, but I don’t think narrow-mindedness is to blame.  I see his point and agree because the real culprit here is not the filmmaker or a fan’s perception, but those churning the big bad marketing cauldron.

There is an incessant need to crow about the next scariest horror movie guaranteed to make you pee your pants, etc.  It creates a false sense of certainty that first, this is a horror in the traditional sense with an immediate gratification for visceral jolts of fear (see the film’s trailer below), and second, that every horror fan is disturbed by this type of horror.  Horror fans can be the most accepting and diverse film-goers out there, but I think they just don’t like being duped.  It’s a matter of misrepresenting what you’re selling simply because you know what people clamour for in order to create a buzz.  That does the film a disservice as the marketing can be hard to avoid, and it can be difficult to stay your bias.  I felt this way with It Follows, which I didn’t like because it was also sold as a terrifying film, and I wasn’t terrified in the least.  I’m an intelligent horror fan with an open mind, and the hype marred my experience.  Ultimately though, everyone is talking about The Witch, which is what any filmmaker would want, so it’s a win-win and opens up yet another debate about what constitutes horror.

I think you should see a film to support a new director with a unique vision, not because a media fueled machine tells you how you should react to a film.  Some will like The Witch for the meticulous attention to detail and art house flair, and some won’t because it doesn’t represent the type of horror genre it was sold as; it’s as simple as that.  When we are allowed to use our own powers of observation and critical thinking instead of what’s being shoved down our throats, when we allow each other to have and accept each other’s opinions, and when we allow a film to organically emerge and create its own momentum, I think there’ll be a better appreciation for a genre that can be as inclusive as its fans.

 

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