First, a reminder of previous posts that highlighted films in this category, most notably The Ring. And a comment on these type of movies: The Ring is probably the best, scariest haunted spirit movie I have ever seen. This is a genre I’m not necessarily a fan of. I have seen so many previews where — at the end of the trailer — someone stares into a void and then, suddenly, out comes some sort of screaming banshee – a big ‘BOO’ moment. Those ‘BOO’ moments can get tiresome, if for example it’s The Grudge and that’s all the movie can muster.
Screeching humanoid forms suddenly twisting and screaming out of the darkness: One of the most scary things can be someone walking through a house where a tension exists — the tension of some evil bad guy about to pop out and catch the protagonist by surprise, no matter how prepared he may be. This has got to be about the most common device used in movies. And a lot of times it is very effective. But somehow when it’s an evil spirit it’s less effective — perhaps because spirits already have the ability to pop out of any place at any time, which makes us always more prepared? So the movies I am highlighting in this post have supernatural elements, but they don’t rely on one supposedly scary ‘BOO’ moment after another.
An exceptionally good example of the use of supernatural elements is The Uninvited, discussed in the last post. It’s exceptional because you’re not sure what is supernatural and what is not; there is a wonderful crossover between what is real, what is imagined, and what can’t possibly be happening yet is — and what logical explanation could there be?
OK, enough background thoughts. These movies — my new mentions below — are a fun lot of films, and because of the paranormal devices that they employ, they provide a different flavor than those of the previous post. First, going back a ways, is The Craft (1996) with Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, and Rachel True. This is the basic story of a group of somewhat outcast goth girls who discover they have supernatural powers, especially when working together. They begin to exercise the powers of the coven, and fun times follow; 8/10. This 90’s classic has been shown many times on TV, and I am always drawn in to keep watching — maybe it deserves a 9 — right on the border.
Drag Me To Hell (2009) is sort of The Craft in reverse — a reversal of fortunes via witchcraft. A young female loan officer who is up for promotion decides not to offer any more conciliation to a wretched old woman about to lose her house. The old woman makes a big scene in the bank and offers up a curse upon our young and sympathetic executive. The curse is brought to bear of course, but the way in which it happens delights and entertains in novel ways. An otherwise inconsequential black fly marks the beginning of a tortuous romp, a journey to endure, then shake loose of her curse. This movie is a legitimate thriller, though it borders on camp. Don’t let the marketing or poster scare you off; this film is not so dark or ominous as it lets on. Just pure fun; 8/10.
If you like Richard Gere, and I do, I recommend The Mothman Prophecies (2002) — an intriguing little mystery supposedly based on actual events in West Virginia, with good performances by Gere and supporting cast. Another mystery lies in the generally panned and unsuccessful The Number 23 (2007) with Jim Carrey. I don’t care to plumb the negative criticism of this movie, including a Golden Raspberry nomination for Carrey, which is preposterous. Jim Carrey is an excellent actor whom I find always eminently watchable, and delivers a fine performance here. This movie is not perfect, but good, compelling and entertaining, and it has stuck with me.
* * *
Gorgeous Jessica Alba too is eminently watchable, and she starred in a pair of enjoyable thrillers which I saw a while back. First was The Eye (2008), which does have a bit of that ‘BOO’ element à la The Grudge that I sometimes disparage, but I liked this one. About a happy blind girl (happy in the signature Jessica Alba fashion) who receives eye transplants to see again. Turns out not to be such a great move — the eyes have a questionable provenance, and as such she starts seeing things she’d rather not. A little bit of a standard haunted-spirit movie, but nothing wrong with that if it still entertains. A more novel story is unwrapped in Awake (2007). Here Alba’s fiancé needs heart surgery. During the operation, when he should be out like a light, he finds he is still awake and aware of what is going on, including deceitful conversation pointing to a plot against him. To make matters worse, Alba’s character may not be fully in his court.
I had mentioned Devil (2010, unknown actors) previously, but I am not finding a post for it — thank goodness for that Search feature! Devil is a great, concise and taut little gem of a movie that I was fortunate enough to see in the theater. This compact movie makes me think of Die Hard stripped to the bone. Basic story: a group of people get stuck in an elevator, and one of them may be the Devil. Delicious. Great inverted-cityscape opening sets the tone; I hope it conveys on smaller screens. 8/10.
An effluence of evil spirits springs forth in Steven Spielberg’s classic Poltergeist (1982; 9/10). Just a mention here, as everyone should already be aware of this one. Spielberg’s modern rendition of the haunted house theme ushers ghosts through the dreaded TV set — as announced by the little daughter’s timeless line, “They’re hee-erre”. There has been a ton of material already written and publicly discussed about this movie; I’ll add my two cents later in a planned “Haunted House” post, or, more ambitiously, a post on the work of Steven Spielberg.
More paranormal activity rears its ugly head in, well, Paranormal Activity (duh), which is entertaining, once you buy the conceit of the hand-held reality camera, so ever popular these days. I intend a separate post on movies that employ this device, including Chronicle, Quarantine, Cloverfield, and the one that started the trend, The Blair Witch Project. The original Paranormal Activity (2007; 7/10) was a surprise hit, spawning a still-growing list of sequels. In this case, a couple decide to start filming their daily life to try to capture odd events that have been happening in their home. The reality filmmaking style renders an effective take on the haunted house theme, and like any good thriller this offers plenty of scary suspense.
* * *
A fantastic invention came upon The Cabin in the Woods, released earlier this year. A group of friends on a weekend getaway find their cabin comes with some unusual characteristics, and bad things start to happen. The out of the blue happenings are, unknown to them, being viewed and controlled by remote operators from a safe distance. This movie distinguishes itself from the typical haunted house, crazed killer, or zombie movie by its integration of disparate and original elements — like Being John Malkovich, this movie continues to pony up new tricks as it moves along. Fun and entertaining, 8/10.
At some point I’ll do a posting on zombie and vampire movies, but for now I recommend Jennifer’s Body (2009, 8/10). A little like an other-worldly Christian Slater in Heathers, Megan Fox plays the high school number-one popular cheerleader, who has been bitten by a bug, as it were, that gives her even greater empowerment, and renewed appetite for men that can be sated in only one way. Her best friend “Needy”, played by the compelling Amanda Seyfried, attempts to cope with her friend’s new exploits.
A terrific fairy-tale town setting of Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, so named for a gushing whirlpool, instantly creates good will on behalf of the unfolding story. Highly recommended and perhaps the most pure fun of all the movies in this post.