Directed by James Wan
Distributed by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Most of the time, this writer has found such grand proclamations in some reviews to be eye-rollers – hyperbolic, lazy bits o’ shorthand that simply seem to say little more than “Hey! I really liked this!”. As a reader, I generally tend to shrug at such phrases. As a reviewer, I’ve tried to avoid using them in my own critiques – though some would-be TalkBacker could probably prove otherwise, I’m certain.
All that said, the notion that a newly-released film might deserve consideration as among the very best of its kind isn’t entirely impossible, is it? Why shouldn’t a film immediately soar to the ranks of “classic” if it succeeds on just about every possible level – acting as a yardstick by which every other to-be-released movie of its ilk will almost certainly be judged?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you – The Conjuring.
Helmed by Saw and Insidious director James Wan and based upon a case file from renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family: mother Carolyn (Taylor), father Roger (Livingston), and their five young girls. As the film begins, the Perrons have just moved into an old farmhouse that must’ve just screamed ”Haunt me!” upon its first day standing. The family manages to settle in just before a series of bizarre events begin to plague them: strange smells, odd noises, the unexpected death of a beloved pet. When Carolyn begins to exhibit strange bruising even as her daughters begin receiving nightly visitations from malevolent spirits, she seeks out the help of the Warrens (Wilson and Farmiga), the real life ghost hunters who consulted on thousands of cases over the course of their career – including the events which inspired the films The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut (another noteworthy case of theirs, involving a possessed doll named “Annabelle”, is chronicled in The Conjuring’s super-creepy opening sequence).
Though initially reluctant to take the case due to a recent exorcism gone awry which nearly claimed Lorraine’s health and sanity, Ed agrees to visit the Perron household with Lorraine, who immediately determines that an evil, likely demonic presence has infested the household. The Warrens set up shop in the home, determined to suss out the evil’s origins and document it for the purposes of securing the Vatican’s blessing for an exorcism. Unfortunately, neither the Perrons nor the Warrens could possibly guess at the demon’s true, diabolical intent. At least, not until it’s perhaps too late…
From top to bottom, first minute to last, The Conjuring is a sterling example of haunted house filmmaking that I’d easily place alongside Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. It’s that rare thing – a big studio release (R-rated, no less) that favors character and mood over gore and cheap jump scares, and doesn’t pander to its audience or water down its content in order to secure the interest of a younger audience. And for all the horror films that grace or pollute theatres, video stores and kiosks each year – how many are actually scary? Well, call me a wimp if you’d like, but I found The Conjuring to be genuinely terrifying throughout. This film’s scares are expertly orchestrated, running the gamut from creeping dread to quiet terror, nerve-shredding tension to bombastic horror. This flick puts you through the wringer and makes you love it for doing so.
All that wouldn’t be possible, of course, if we didn’t care about the characters – all those people in harm’s way. The writing, direction, and especially the acting ensure that we actually care about each of the families involved in these terrible events. Kudos to writers Chad and Carey Hayes for penning a screenplay which not only offers up a number of chilling and horrific moments, but for also giving the characters the kind of depth that is sadly seldom seen in films of this sort these days.
And did I mention the acting? As Ed and Lorraine, Wilson and Farmiga deliver typically great work, disappearing into each role and imbuing their characters with a warmth and intelligence that makes them immediately likeable. And as the Perrons, Taylor and Livingston are just great – making Carolyn and Roger seem utterly real from their very first moment on screen. Their interplay early on makes one feel as though they’re peeking into someone’s actual life. Due to the nature of the tale, Taylor is given more to do in the film, but both actors do a marvelous job of making their characters completely believable throughout.
Also successful is the film’s beautiful, shadow-drenched photography. There are also a few neat, dated techniques employed to root the film in the 70s (zooms, rickety tracking shots), and I applaud the filmmakers for pulling these moments off without dragging viewers out of the film. Speaking of the 70s, the film’s production design and costumes are wonderful, and do a great job of seeming authentic and effortlessly selling the time period. Add to all of this Joseph Bishara’s unnerving, old school musical score, and you have a film which has been marvelously constructed at every level.
Bringing all of these elements together is director Wan. The filmmaker has dabbled in spooky horror a few times now with varying degrees of success, but The Conjuring must surely be his best film. His work in this movie is nothing short of masterful, and even if the rumors that he’s leaving the genre for good are true, fans should feel lucky that he visited here at all. Bravo, sir.
Still, though the movie is great, it is briefly hamstrung by a few unfortunate choices. For all the work that went into making the film feel as though it takes place in the 70s (indeed, as though it were made in the 70s), a crucial montage sequence at the movie’s midpoint is set to the music of…Ryan Gosling’s band?! This isn’t a huge flaw, mind you, but one wonders why an appropriate track couldn’t have been pulled from the proper period (as with other moments in the film). It’s a strange choice that does remove one from the film’s carefully constructed reality, if only for a moment.
Also unfortunate, and equally jarring, is a moment in the film’s climax. Though the previous eighty minutes seemed to employ practical scares and rely on mostly shadows and sound, a major moment during the film’s otherwise intense finale is ruined by the inclusion of a flock of birds – all created by some dodgy CG. It’s quite bad, though mercifully brief, and could’ve easily been cut from the film with no damage done to the narrative. Why this setpiece was created in such a way, let alone left in the film, is beyond me.
One final niggle: for all my praise of the film’s script and the talented actors populating the film (all well-deserved), one wishes the filmmakers had taken the extra time to flesh out the supporting characters a bit more. Sure, we care about our four leads, but we barely get to know the Perron’s daughters or the Warrens’ associates even though they are integral to the plot. I’m nitpicking, certainly, but these flaws stand out and are more easily noticed precisely because the rest of the film is so great.
Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has brought its surprise summer hit onto Blu with a beautifully detailed picture and an alternately creepy/thunderous audio track. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of bonus features, save for three (admittedly very good) featurettes. They are: Face-to-Face with Terror, a discussion with the real life Perron family who look back on the events which inspired the film (this is a surprisingly moving and chilling piece at times); A Life in Demonology, a fifteen-minute documentary about the Warrens’ exploits, featuring Lorraine and various protégés of the Warrens discussing their career and legacy; and Scaring the ‘@$*%’ Out of You, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s making – featuring Wan, the Hayes brothers, and various producers discussing the film’s origin and production, along with a peek at how some of the film’s scares were crafted. A decent enough package, quality-wise. Still, one wishes that this successful film might’ve been rewarded with a more substantial set of bonus features (even the film’s effective theatrical trailers fail to make an appearance on the Blu). Ah, well…
Horror fans, hear me out: if you haven’t yet seen The Conjuring (and judging from the movie’s numbers, there can’t be too many of you left), get thee to your nearest disc dealer and secure yourself a copy. It’s a smart, scary, incredibly well-directed throwback to a better era of horror filmmaking. It stands as not only one of the best genre films you’ll see this year, but one of the best films period.
Is it perfect? No.
Instant classic? You betcha.
4 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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