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Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

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Paranormal Activity 2 (click for larger image)Reviewed by Uncle Creepy

Starring Katie Featherston

Directed by Tod “Kip” Williams


It’s no secret that we at Dread Central have been long-time champions of Paranormal Activity. When we first saw Oren Peli’s minimalist masterpiece at its original 2007 festival premiere, we were so joyously creeped-out that we spent the next several years screaming about it from the rooftops. But no one could foresee the huge numbers and pop culture impact that came when Paramount finally unleashed it to the world last fall.

While that film made us into believers, the announcement of a Hollywood sequel turned everyone back into skeptics. The original didn’t exactly beg for a follow-up, and almost instantly people began throwing around Blair Witch 2 jokes. Sequels are tough. Sequels to cinema-verite are damn near impossible. So it is my extreme pleasure to report that the people behind this film have accomplished a minor miracle: Paranormal Activity 2 is every bit as scary as the original. In fact, it’s the Godfather II of found footage movies. This is what Aliens is to Alien.

Paranormal Activity 2 follows Katie’s sister, Kristi (referenced in the first film), and her family as they encounter the same malicious spirit that haunted them in their youth. When they return to find their house wrecked, the family members believe it to be a burglary and install security cameras across their entire property, via which most of the action takes place. At the center of it all is Kristi’s newborn baby, Hunter, whose eerie birth seems to have triggered the paranormal forces.

Paranormal Activity 2 (click for larger image)Indie filmmaker Tod (The Door in the Floor) Williams takes over directorial duties from Peli (stepping in as producer), and he masterfully handles the cinema-verite style without missing a beat. Even though he has an actual budget to play with, Williams never devolves it into an FX show, instead playing everything out practically through the same creepy minimalist techniques. As a result, we actually have a big studio sequel that doesn’t lose the indie spirit of its predecessor.

The formula is pretty much the same this go-around, but part of what makes this one so effective is the familiarity. Knowing what this family is up against makes things that much scarier, and the second the words “Night #1” flash onscreen and the eerie bass drones and thumping footsteps start shaking your intestines, it feels as if you’re thrust back into an old nightmare. What’s even more impressive is how the creators have duplicated the same experience without making the found footage angle seem contrived or repetitive. In general, sequels catch a lot of flack for over-explaining or screwing up major story elements, but the writers effortlessly tie this in with the original. Without giving anything way, there are several cause-effect revelations that will send people running back to their DVD players to revisit the original.

It goes without saying that Paranormal Activity 2 won’t win over any new fans. If the first film didn’t do anything for you, neither will this one. But if you felt the effects last time, if you hesitated before turning off the light or felt nervous in a room by yourself, prepare to feel the same again. This is a rare sequel that complements and enhances the original without betraying the elements that made it work in the first place, and watched back-to-back, it’s the perfect one-two punch of creepy excellence. Every creak and groan in your house becomes suspect, and going to sleep is that much harder. Believe it, folks; lightning can indeed strike twice, and this flick will hit you with frightening force.

4 1/2 out of 5

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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review: A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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Secretions Short Film Review – Anyone For Some Blood and Guts a la Carte?

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Starring Zia Electric, David Macrae, Chris Savva

Directed by Goran Spoljaric


Only a select few know the true horrors of one’s basement (hell, I’ve got one that floods regularly) – but in director Goran Spoljaric’s extremely “juicy” short film, Secretions – we see just what lives in a grimy cellar…and what it craves in order to sustain. Anyone have any sanitizer? We’re gonna need it for this one.

Alone and held captive in a dirty-subterranean room, a woman is literally fighting for her life, and due to her being chained at the ankle, it’s painfully obvious that she’s here for the long haul. On the first floor of this residence, a deal is being made, and it’s one that will either help or harm a hopeless addict.

It involves a little handy-work down in the basement, and although it might seem like a light job considering the circumstances…nothing is as easy as it initially looks – anyone for some blood and guts a la carte? The imprisoned woman contains something inside of her that is particularly satiating to the habituated, but it comes at a painful price, which begs the question: what would you risk to scratch an itch?

Spoljaric’s direction here focuses on the victim – and while you’ll probably be wondering exactly who that is during this quickie’s 11-minute duration, it doesn’t detract from its powerful display. Gritty, grimy and ultimately gruesome – these Secretions are the ones that simply cannot be washed off – maybe I’ll give a little turpentine a shot, as something’s got to get these damned stains out – YUCK.

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