Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

JUNE 6, 2021

GENRE: POSSESSION, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (IMAX SCREENING)

You might notice that "Haunted House" is not among the genre tags for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and no that's just not me being lazy. Outside of that waterbed scene that featured heavily in the film's trailers, there really isn't a lot of traditional HH stuff in the film, as it wisely moves away from the template set by the first two Conjurings and opts for something closer to an X-Files/Supernatural type of procedural, with Ed and Lorraine discovering that their new family was cursed and - rather than stay with them and let the usual spookiness occur - they hit the road and try to solve the mystery.

And, while far from perfect, it largely worked like a charm for me. I didn't have a lot of love for Conjuring 2, I must admit; the family wasn't as compelling and it was clear they were trying to recapture the magic of the original despite having less to work with, so trying a new tack was the correct decision if you ask me. Director Michael Chaves isn't as strong a director as James Wan, but perhaps he realized this after Curse of La Llorona (for my money the low point of this universe*) as he barely even attempts to pull off the same kind of hokey (if often effective) scares that are this series' trademark. Instead he goes unnerving bits of violence and a sense of real world menace, which coupled with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson's always welcome performances and a less made-up story than usual more or less makes up for the reduction in successful jolt moments.

By "less made-up" I refer to the fact that the case it's based on, the one where the film got its silly subtitled, actually did leave a man dead. Whether the culprit was just crazy or there really was some kind of satanic/supernatural explanation for what happened will be up to your personal beliefs, but unlike the previous film's "true story" there is no argument that something resulted in a person losing their life, and his murderer was sentenced to prison for it. That throughline gives the movie more weight than a couple of little girls making things up (or their parents making it up and having them parrot it), which is how you can explain away "The Enfield Poltergeist" and the like. Even the Warrens' real life involvement with this particular event was more substantial than C2's (in which their involvement was so minimal it's not even mentioned in some writeups of the story), as they were familiar with those involved before the murder even occurred.

For those unaware of the story, Arne Johnson murdered his landlord in 1981, later claiming it was possession - but his excuse wasn't out of left field. As it turns out, his girlfriend's little brother David Wetzel was possessed (or "possessed") several months earlier, and seemingly cured during an exorcism, though witnesses (including the Warrens) believe that the demon merely left David's body and entered Arne's. I mean, if you're gonna pin the devil on a murder you commit, it helps to establish the alibi months ahead, right? Alas, in real life the judge refused to buy into any such nonsense, and the trial went on without any introduced evidence of demons or the like, and Arne was convicted of manslaughter after his defense went with a more believable "self defense" excuse. He only served five years in jail and has lived a pretty normal life since, best as I can tell.

The movie spins things differently, obviously, since that wouldn't make for a very engaging two hours (yes, two hours - I was so relieved this one didn't test my patience like C2 did with its 2.5 hr runtime). The courtroom stuff is treated as a kind of ticking clock, with Ed and Lorraine needing to find some kind of proof of Arne's condition to bring before the court or else he will be tried and likely executed for his crime. Their research into the house where David lived reveals a hex, suggesting that the family was not possessed, but cursed, and from there they enter the world of witches and Satanists, discovering a link to another murder, etc. Their adventures ultimately lead them to John Noble (yay!) as an ex-Priest who, like the Warrens, has a locked room full of books and trinkets about the black arts that he keeps in order to keep them out of evil hands.

Eventually the case leads them to another connection to this universe, which I guess could be a spoiler so I won't get into it. Instead I'll just say that the movie works despite seeming like a not always graceful attempt at combining a traditional Conjuring film with one of its spinoffs. Even that aforementioned waterbed moment is kind of shoehorned into the proceedings, as Ed says something like "We need to go back to the beginning," which prompts a flashback of David, one his first day of moving into that house, sitting on the waterbed and getting his little mini-haunted house movie in return. At first it seems like this might be a lengthy round of backstory leading up to the opening scene where he was exorcised, but that's pretty much it. After everyone settles down we return to the present day and pretty much never even see the Wetzel family again other than Arne's girlfriend.

Of course, this might be due to the fact that in real life, David and his brother Carl (who isn't even in the movie) sued the Warrens for exploiting them, so the producers probably felt it was in everyone's best interest to minimize their involvement as much as possible. But again this kind of makes the movie feel a bit scattershot, and also reduces how much our ptotagonists can do their nurturing act - there are no opportunities for Ed to pull out his guitar in this one, sadly. That said we get just as much, perhaps a little more, of how much these two love each other, again making me appreciate that there's a major horror franchise focused on heroes instead of villains for once. During David's opening exorcism (which is a terrific sequence, I should note - super tense and given a small bit of levity with a pretty great Exorcist nod) Ed suffers a heart attack, which leaves him a bit winded and relying on a cane for the rest of the movie, allowing them some cutesiness that worked like gangbusters on me. At one point someone needs to crawl around in a dark basement, prompting Ed to protest that he should do it, only for Lorraine to smile and tell him to hold her purse - it's adorable! And there's a bit about his heart pills that had me practically cooing in the theater; maybe the scares don't always work on me, but I'm an easy mark for a tug on the ol' heartstrings. Still, I would have liked to have seen them bonding with either Arne or the Wetzels a little more.

(Also, for anyone confused why daughter Judy is so much older all of a sudden when their most recent entry was Annabelle Comes Home, I'll remind you that no movie in this cinematic universe immediately follows the one that was released before it. The chronological order is The Nun (released 5th), Annabelle 2 (4th), Annabelle 1 (2nd), Conjuring 1 (1st), Annabelle 3 (7th), La Llorona (6th), Conjuring 2 (3rd), Conjuring 3 (8th).)

So, again, it's not a home run, and I wasn't surprised to see people dismissing it (some even said it was the worst of this entire franchise, which, come on. It's not even the worst one by Michael Chaves!), but due to my own sensibilities being catered to, I found it more engaging than I would have if they stuck with the Wetzels' house the entire time. The occasional bits of humor (Noble explaining why he can't shake Ed's hand floored me) and focus on more flesh and blood threats kept my interest and more or less made up for its at-times awkward editing and structure (even the score suggests some production discord, as it's largely comprised of temp music, featuring everything from End of Days (!) to... 1917 and Sicario?). Hopefully they aren't scared off and return to more familiar territory with Conjuring 4 if there is one; I'd prefer if they just took what worked here and went even further off the beaten path next time around. It's the Warren characters that keep us coming back, so there's no reason to stick them in the same sub-genre every time out. And since the real life people are a. con artists and b. dead there's no real reason to even stick to their real life cases, as they can make something up 100% and it won't really be much different than the Warrens' "facts" that inspired them in the first place.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

MAY 31, 2021

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

At the end of a long weekend with my potentially hyperactive son, A Quiet Place Part II could have devoted all of its (few) spoken lines to making fun of the length of my penis and I'd still probably enjoy it for its fantasy world where kids can't talk about *anything*, let alone what various Pokemon evolve into and who they would be good to fight against. But even if I saw it when I was supposed to, fourteen months ago (before Pikachu wormed his way into my son's head), I'd probably feel the same I do now: it's a terrific sequel that manages to be every bit as tense as the original while finding a believable way of getting around the sequel-proof end that earlier film seemed to be promising. Yes, the heroes know how to kill the monsters now... but how do they spread the word without making a sound?

After a terrific "Day 1" flashback opening that allows John Krasinski to reprise his role as Lee (starting with a scene at that same pharmacy that the original opened on, and Krasinski takes time to hold a few extra frames on that damn space shuttle toy, the jerk) and gives us a glimpse of what kind of chaos just one or two of these monsters can wreak on a full crowd, we pick up right where the original ended. The family is leaving their house and heading to presumed safety at an old friend of theirs, played by Cillian Murphy. Murphy is terrific and makes the most out of a fairly standard post-apocalyptic character: the former family man who lost everyone and is now too bitter to help, but is convinced by a child's plight to do the right thing. The trailer had me thinking he was an antagonist of a sort (Tim Robbins in War of the Worlds was my mental comparison) but he proves to be a fine hero and more than makes up for Krasinski's absence.

But it's actually kind of an ensemble this time, as the kids (same actors, thankfully*) take more central roles and, due to plot mechanics, find themselves separate from each other and mom Emily Blunt for a sizeable chunk of the runtime. Regan has the most synopsis ready storyline: after finding a radio broadcast playing "Beyond the Sea" in a loop, she quickly deduces that the signal must be coming from a nearby island, and if they can get there, they can broadcast her magic hearing aid signal to anyone listening and start a more effective fight back against the monsters. She leaves on her own in the middle of the night knowing the others wouldn't let her leave, prompting Blunt to send Murphy after her while she watches the kids. But then she needs to go on a supply run, leaving Marcus with the baby. And then... well, they all make noise.

There are two sequences in the film where Krasinski and his editors deftly switch from one character's plight to the next's, keeping the tension ever increasing by ending each scene on the "worst possible moment!" (i.e. a cliffhanger) to check in with another person's own imminent death, and it works incredibly well (Inception's multi layered dream sequence is a similar style, if my own description isn't clear). One would think cutting away would defuse a lot of that suspense, but it's quite the opposite, due to this particular franchise having established that no one is safe. Maybe you coulda guessed Jim Halpert would bite it at the end of the first movie, but not their youngest child in the FIRST SCENE, so there's never a moment of "they're safe, who cares, get back to the character who is in REAL danger!" thinking you might get if they tried something like this in a movie/franchise that had already tipped its hat that they didn't have the guts to take down a tyke or a big star.

In fact the scenes would work even if the characters could make sound, which drove a lot of the suspense the first time around. That's obviously a big part of it, but having spent that nickel in the first movie, there aren't a lot of scenes devoted to "How do they (go to the bathroom, put down a battery, etc) without making a peep?" in this sequel. Instead, the script (Krasinski solo; the original writers moved on) sticks to putting people in dangerous situations where sound is inevitable, like when poor Marcus trips a bear trap and his mom's only means of comforting him is to hold his mouth shut to try to keep him quiet (shoutout to Noah Jupe's pipes; even with Blunt's hand muffling them that kid's pained howl is unbearable). Even the inevitable "evil human" scene (which is thankfully brief) is tied into this idea: the villains don't wound our hero, they simply tie a chain of cans and bottles around his neck, preventing him from pursuing them as he can barely breathe without making a clatter.

That's the sort of thing that makes this an ideal sequel, a true rarity for the horror genre (even more impressive coming from a guy who probably doesn't have a lot of Scream Factory discs in his collection). The original was a simple idea milked for maximum effectiveness, and that's the sort of thing that can lead to big step downs for their followups (Halloween II and the Paranormal Activity franchise come to mind), but they find a way around it by coming up with different ways of having to be quiet, with the tradeoff being that they also found ways of having more dialogue. Murphy's character has a sound proof "room" (inside a tank) that can only hold a few minutes' worth of air but will let people have conversations (or, in Marcus' case, finally let out that scream), and later in the film he and Regan find another spot where making sound is possible. The combination of these two ideas gives a sequel that never feels like a complete retread, nor does it feel the need to add mythology or anything. Even the flashback doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know; the monsters coming from a meteor was established via newspaper headline in the original, so seeing it happen doesn't demystify them or anything like that. By the end of the film we know just as much about them as we did in 2018, and that is a very smart decision.

They also don't change the creatures, another plus, Most monster movie sequels (Tremors, Jurassic Park, etc) feel the need to create a different monster for them to fight, but that's not the case here: they're the exact same ones we saw before (barring whatever improvements in CGI they have afforded; the film cost 3x as much as the original). The added scariness comes from more survival type situations, like Marcus running out of air in the little tank while a monster stomps around outside, or Regan losing her hearing aid at a very inpportune moment. The film only spans like 36 hours or something like that, so there isn't much opportunity for anything grand, and (at least per my three year old memory of my one viewing of the original) there are fewer moments where I found myself wondering how this or that would have been possible to do silently.

(Do they ever eat, though?)

Long story short, they cracked the sequel code! I walked out of the first thinking a followup would be disastrous (unless it just spent 90 minutes on Emily Blunt driving around shooting monsters, which I still would have been fine with), but they went ahead and made one that's just as good as the already very impressive original. In my review of the first one I noted how I gave it four stars on Letterboxd, which I had just started using, and I hope you're as impressed as I am that I walked out, not remembering what I gave the first one (I just re-read my review before writing this one), and gave this one four stars as well. Most movies I give 3s, and when I like them I bump up to 3.5, so for both films to score 4s from me is truly an honor, I assure them. Guessing the 50m opening weekend means a little to them, but still. At any rate, if you haven't been back to the theater yet, this is a terrific choice (especially since the nature of the film tends to keep audiences quiet; of the six movies I've attended theatrically since theaters reopened, it was easily the most behaved crowd).

What say you?

*During the credits, the people next to me openly wondered how the kids didn't look three years older, assuming they used MCU style de-aging on them. This led me to think that they had no idea about the film's lengthy delay, which I found kind of sweet! I would love to be that in the dark about this sort of thing and believe a little more in "movie magic" than I ever can anymore.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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