The Season Begins

The Halloween season here at the Allman Halloween Group began this year as it does every year: with the perfect Halloween movie.

 
halloween-movie.jpg
 

My first ever blog post was a tribute to my definitive Halloween movie - after 40 years and what seems like a zillion sequels and remakes, the original Halloween circa 1978 with Jamie Lee Curtis is still my perfect Halloween movie.

Halloween Door Mat.jpg

I'm not sure why I love Halloween, but I always have. Maybe it is rooted in childhood memories of birthdays my sister and I had in October that melded with the Halloween festivities. Maybe it was my mother's genius in costume design and her own love for Halloween and horror films.  Maybe it was dressing up in monk-style robes to scare our friends, or chasing some legend of a headless Chinese railroad worker with my brothers, or hanging out in cemeteries to scare ourselves. Hell, maybe it was just all of the candy - the glorious contraband of my youth. My siblings, my children, my grandkids, my nieces and nephews are also really into Halloween. So maybe it's simply genetic.

Jamie Lee Curtis made her film debut as a high-school babysitting nerd in Halloween just about the same time that I was a budding high-school nerd myself. Long before reruns or VHS, HBO, DVDs, streaming video or the cloud – we had one chance to see Halloween on the big screen. Larger than life in the theater, it scared the hell out of me. And I am teleported back to autumn in a small town high school every time I see it.

40 years later, I still jump the first time Michael Myers sits up.  You do, too.  You know you do.

Halloween-1978.png
halloween-movie2.jpg
what-is-horror-2.jpg

When people learn of my passion for Halloween and horror movies they almost always ask my favorite horror movie – or what I think is the scariest movie. Or both. Usually followed by a discussion about what constitutes a horror movie. Slashers, thrillers, suspense, paranormal, witches and demons, true crime, cult, comedy ... all fair game for horror films. Some are obvious and others, not so much. Halloween isn’t really Halloween without Trick ‘r Treat, is it? And what about the classics – for that matter, what are the classics? Is Nosferatu overrated as a top horror film of all time? What about Night of the Living Dead? Does The Conjuring terrify you as much as it does me? Are you a Bruce Campbell fan?  Do Ghostbusters, Jaws, Alien, or Beetlejuice count as horror movies? If so, then what about Godzilla, King Kong, or World War Z? I personally think Manhunter circa 1986 is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen – but I wouldn’t call it horror. Funny Games is disturbing on so many levels but is it horror? Do you sneak Final Destination in on horror night?

None of it matters except whether the film is horror for you - and what film defines the Halloween season for you. So kick back, turn up the volume, and follow along as we enjoy another October of horror movies. You can catch this year’s line-up by clicking the Movie Calendar link, and check out our play by play as we watch a few extras and rate each movie as we see it.

Happy Halloween, the best time of the year.

happyhalloween1.jpg

September is Halloween Eve

Finally . . . it is that time of year when we get in shape for the Halloween season. Thirty-one days of horror movie watching takes training, focus, endurance, and a plan. And lucky for you, I have just the plan.

 
Halloween-Eve.jpg
 

Last year several excellent horror series dropped on streaming media with barely a warning and no real opportunity to work them into the moviefest schedule. I managed to do it – but I am a professional – so I worked out a schedule for September that will allow you to get in all three series from last year and a bonus series from 2016 that originally ran on Fox network

I know what you’re thinking. FOUR entire series series in one month . . . are you crazy? 

I probably am … crazy … but that has nothing to do with Halloween or horror movies. All you have to do is buy a month’s worth of Netflix and Hulu and follow the plan linked to the Movie Calendar in the sidebar of this page. Here we go.

September 1-7: The Haunting of Hill House

 
hill-house-d.jpg
 

September starts on the Sunday of a long weekend, and my preseason plan will have you doubling up on the weekends. Don’t worry, though. Once you’ve seen the first episode of the Netflix original The Haunting of Hill House, you won’t want to stop. But pace yourself, there’s a lot of horror in your future and you don’t want to hurt yourself.

The Haunting of Hill House is absolutely the best horror series to hit any media and it may very well be the best drama series ever. The fact that it is on Netflix makes it that much better since it is practically free for those of us who cut the cord. I find Netflix originals hit or miss these days, and usually more miss than hit when it comes to horror. But the streaming giant scored a grand slam with this series that premiered last year. The series is based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name which was made into the 1963 movie, The Haunting, and remade in 1999. Hugh Crane and Hill House are central to the story but the characters have different roles and affiliations in each retelling of this supernatural tale.

The Haunting of Hill House has a really strong cast with a screenplay that alternates between then and now as it tells each family member’s memory of the effects of the house on their lives over several decades. There is something unique about the screenplay – the atmosphere, the music, the dialogue – that checks all the boxes for me. The episodes average about an hour each. That should give you enough time to sneak away for a guilty pleasure during the week and barely dedicate a movie’s worth of time during the weekends.  This series is scary, even for me. If your loved ones don’t like scary then I suggest you find something else for them to do for these 10 hours.

 September 8-14: Castle Rock

 
castlerock_b.jpg
 

Next up, Hulu brings you Castle Rock. This original series is based on people, places and themes from the Stephen King universe. Castle Rock stars Bill Skarsgard, best known to horror fans as Pennywise in the film reboot of It. This series takes you on a journey through the past, the present, and alternate versions of both. Sissy Spacek and Scott Glen give brilliant performances along with Skarsgard, Jane Levy, Melanie Lynskey, and Andre Holland. Shawshank Prison is the prominent backdrop for Castle Rock and fans of Stephen King will recognize the fictional town as a favorite in his novels along with Sheriff Alan Pangborn from Needful Things and The Dark Half.

There are so many Easter eggs in Castle Rock that even if you watch it more than once, you will probably need the internet to find them all. This series is well done in its complicity and once you finish the finale, hang on until after the credits have rolled and you’re expecting to be taken back to Hulu’s main menu. Trust me.

Now is the time to watch – or rewatch – Castle Rock. Season 2 is scheduled to premiere on October 23.

September 15-21: The Exorcist

 
exorcist_tv_b.jpg
 

The next series is courtesy of the Fox television network and brought to you by Hulu. The Exorcist is a ten-part sequel to the 1973 film starring Linda Blair, Ellen Burnstyn, and Max Von Syddow. The original movie is considered the scariest film of all time by many critics and viewers, breaking new ground in the genre with scenes that shocked and terrified the audience. The Exorcist remains the highest grossing film for Warner Brothers and the highest grossing “R” rated film, when adjusted for inflation.  It is also one of two horror films ever to be nominated for an Academy award. If you think that is an impressive resume for a horror movie then don’t miss this made-for-television series.  Officially known as The Exorcist: The Next Chapter, the series honors the original novel book and cinematic screenplay, delivering fully all of the terror with a TV-MA rating. But don’t let that fool you. This one is scary.  It is not a series you want to watch with friends or family unless they really, really love horror.  

I put only the first season on the calendar.  I found Season 2 a lesser series and while Father Tomas and Father Marcus are back in their original roles, the second season lacks the magic and the continuity with the original classic that made Season 1 so great. Audience scores are comparable, however, and it is still better than all of the reality crap out there. So if you run low on things to watch, give Season 2 a shot.

September 27-30: Into the Dark

 
into-the-dark.png
 

The preseason wraps up with another Hulu original, Into the Dark.  This collection of horror films is not really a series in the traditional sense. The 12 episodes are completely independent, each themed around a holiday that defines its month.  The first episode, The Body, was released in October 2018 and takes place on Halloween.  The November episode, Flesh & Blood, has a Thanksgiving theme while December’s episode, Pooka, is about a toy. I saw an article comparing Pooka to Dickens’ Christmas Carol to line up with the December theme, but I didn’t get that at all. Just the cuddly not so cuddly toy with a dark side.

I will stop there with the intro and let you watch these for yourself. I had fun guessing which holiday would be the center of each episode.  March surprised me. Into the Dark has more of a Black Mirror feel rather than classic horror, there were only a few episodes that I think really qualify as scary. But they are all good and generally safe for people who don’t like it too scary. The run time for each film is around 90 minutes. Perfect for winding down after a long day.

So there you have it. W'e’re keeping the preseason tradition with an entire month of horror content available with your Netflix or Hulu subscription. If you ease into the Halloween season an hour or so at a time you should have plenty of time to head to the theater for It: Chapter 2 before the month is out. And again, click on the Movie Calendar link for your quick reference guide.

The days are shorter, evenings are cooler, and the season is almost here. Grab a pumpkin spice latte and get ready.

PSL.jpg
Almost-Halloween-Myers-Logo.png
 

The Apocalypse Trilogy

carpenter.jpg

You don’t have to be a fan of John Carpenter to be a fan of his work. The original Halloween circa 1978 introduced Carpenter to the world with a simple, one-handed piano rift that reminded us all of The Exorcist, even if we hadn’t seen it. The Tubular Bells are unmistakable. Armed with a modified William Shatner mask, three-hundred thousand dollars, and an unknown actress from Hollywood royalty, Carpenter set out to define the Halloween horror movie for generations.

But it takes a true John Carpenter fan to know his Apocolypse trilogy. Welcome to the end of the world.

apocalypse-trilogy.jpg

If you have seen the 1982 remake of The Thing starring Kurt Russell, you’ve started the Apocalypse Trilogy. But have you seen The Prince of Darkness with Alice Cooper? Or In the Mouth of Madness with Sam Neill?  These three films make up John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy which is named for the bleak endings of the films’ characters … if not the world. My deepest apologies for the unintentional spoiler, but it has been a few years. If you haven’t seen these movies by now, maybe this will give you a little bump. I haven’t revealed any endings so you can enjoy them for yourself.

I have had a crush on Kurt Russell ever since The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes; I love pretty much everything he does so it is impossible for me not to love The Thing. This film is classified as a remake but that is a little bit misleading. Carpenter used the same source material as the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing from Another World but it is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella, “Who Goes There?” upon which both films were based. Carpenter sets the mood for The Thing with music in much the same way as he did in Halloween. The original “Thing” makes a cameo appearance in Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween – an Easter egg for those of you keeping score.

 

prince-of-darkness-4.jpg

I dressed up as Alice Cooper for Halloween when I was in high school. At that time, we thought Cooper was a snake-eating, devil-worshiping, crazy psycho from the Underworld. The father of shock rock had a concept album entitled “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell,” and he performed live surrounded – literally – by snakes. So it makes sense to find him in a movie entitled The Prince of Darkness, the second film in the Apocalypse Trilogy. Alice Cooper is by no means the main character – nor is he a top billed character. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the film. Cooper had a friend doing some of the effects for the movie and asked if he could watch part of the filming. Carpenter did him one better and cast him as the leader of the soul-less street people and, coincidentally, it’s Cooper’s face we see in the clips and posters. The plot of this movie is a simple one – a mysterious cylinder found in a church is researched by student scientists who unwittingly unleash the anti-God. Carpenter wanted to create a film that was atmospheric and dreadful, which he did. But what I really liked was his juxtaposition of science and religion throughout the film. Donald Pleasance plays Father Loomis a shout out to his role in Carpenter’s Halloween. Expect a lot of 80’s hair, fashion, and effects.

prince-of-darkness-3.jpg

 

in-the-mouth-of-madness.-2.jpg

In the Mouth of Madness rounds out the Apocalypse Trilogy. This film takes you on a journey through a real-life horror novel when an insurance investigator looks into the strange disappearance of Sutter Cane, a hugely successful writer of horror stories. The fictional author is a character that is clearly inspired by Carpenter’s friend and horror novelist, Stephen King. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will argue he is the inspiration for the character because Lovecraft’s quotes are included among the Cane’s fictional work. This movie opens and closes with some rocking heavy-metal that is reminiscent of a Metallica tune in contrast to the rather delicate piano melody that defines Halloween. The film’s score is original John Carpenter. The only credited music from the film is a brief verse by The Carpenters. That can’t be an accident. Sam Neill stars in this, my personal favorite of the Apocalypse Trilogy films.

in-the-mouth-of-madness.jpg

 

All three films of the Apocalypse Trilogy carry an R rating, presumably for language and disturbing content. Check these out for yourself and decide which one is your favorite. While you’re at it, decide which John Carpenter film is your favorite. That will be harder.

A Trillion Reasons to Watch Black Mirror

Season 5 of Black Mirror dropped on Netflix last month. I just finished Season 4 and wanted to pause before diving in to those three precious episodes. I haven’t heard anything about a Season 6 so it could be a while before more Black Mirror is available.

black-mirror.png

But what the hell . . . I watched them anyway. And Bandersnatch – I got that in, too.

If you’re new to Black Mirror, it is a British television anthology set in the future or an alternate-present that explores the dark and mostly unintended consequences of technology. There are five seasons, each containing themes of warped political satire, dystopian Hellscapes, social issues, or relationships effected by technology. Each episode is independent so you can dive in anywhere, but if you start at the beginning you will be treated to call backs and Easter eggs that build on previous episodes. I started at the beginning and nearly stopped after the first episode, The National Anthem. It was a little over the top for me but I got back into the series - because I apparently don’t have enough excuses to binge Netflix - and I love it. Twenty-three episodes and one multi-dimensional film later, The National Anthem is my least favorite of the Black Mirror episodes. If you liked ABCs of Death, you may feel differently. If you haven’t seen ABCs of Death, do not consider this a recommendation. 

Fifteen Million Merits is a good place to start. This episode gives you a flavor of the dark and twisted nature of the series and includes a terrific performance by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya. The hauntingly beautiful music that defines this episode appears in every season of Black Mirror. Jessica Brown Findley (who I remember as Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) co-stars and those memorable vocals are her own. Fun fact: this tune appears in Netflix original series, “Dead to Me,” performed by the original artist, Irma Thomas.. Coincidence? Me thinks not. 

bm-merits.jpg
bm-playtest.jpg

I personally don’t consider Black Mirror a horror series even though it is tagged as such. It is dark and disturbing with a few scenes that are downright scary, and that attracts horror fans. The line between horror and not-horror is different for everyone and I get asked all the time whether a certain film is horror – and why or why not. If you were to watch Playtest from Season 3 as your first episode, then you might think you had jumped head first into a horror series.

My favorite episode is probably U.S.S. Callister. The antagonist in this Star-Trek themed episode looks like Matt Damon if Matt Damon were to undergo some bad plastic surgery. My sincere apologies to Jessie Piemons. There is a sense of humor here that is not typical of the other episodes. Comedian Daniel Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Mark Wahlberg, brings a whole lot of satirical humor to his iconic cartoon character in The Waldo Moment. And White Christmas, sometimes billed as the Black Mirror Christmas special, is darkly funny thanks to John Hamm. I love John Hamm – so much that I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Most of the episodes where relationships are at the center of technology have destructive consequences but San Junipero is an exception. Nosedive is sort of hilarious, not because it has a funny screenplay, but because it takes your rating on social media to a ridiculous extreme and pokes fun at social influencers and that felt like vindication to me. But then again, I recently visited the Manhattan Project museums in Los Alamos and the way housing assignments were made almost chilled me as if felt like a 1960s version of the same concept.

I have Metal Head and Men of Fire towards the bottom of the list and maybe the dystopian Hellscape that attracts so many viewers is simply not my style. I see both of these episodes at the top of other lists. Season 5 is drawing a lot of criticism with the Miley Cyrus episode rating dead last in a lot of reviews. I liked the Ashley Too episode and I think Season 5 is classic Black Mirror. And if we’ve learned nothing else by now, it is that Rotten Tomatoes, iMdb and movie reviews (like this) are ruining the experience for everyone. How many times have you planned to see a movie only to change your mind when a low score pops up on opening weekend? Don’t change your mind.. There was a time when all we had were three motion picture ratings to warn our parents of nudity, and we actually had to decide for ourselves if a movie was worth our time and our money. I swear I hardly ever saw any bad movies when I was a kid. That’s not a terrible place to return to in my book. So ignore my review and go make your own.  Black Mirror is like Into the Dark in that each episode is independent and you can grab them at will whenever you have less than an hour available.

Except for Bandersnatch – an interactive, full-length feature film which is probably a misnomer since Bandersnatch is not just one movie. According to sources which I did not verify (even my insomnia doesn’t go that deep), the interactive movie has a trillion combinations and five different endings. The shortest combo runs about 40 minutes while the longest will demand over two hours of your time. I spent way too much time finding three endings and if you think that is extreme, know that there are flowcharts that nerdy obsessionists have created to calculate the permutations. My hat’s off to them. I dare you to watch just one time through. Better yet . . . I dare you to find the secret ending. 

bm-bandersnatch5.jpg
bm-bandersnatch4.jpg








The End of an Era - What's Next for Annabelle?

In April of this year, we said a last good-bye to Lorraine Warren, the other half of the famed paranormal research investigators best known for their work that inspired the films of The Conjuring Universe. While the Warrens also investigated the haunting of the Amityville home owned by George and Kathy Lutz, a story depicted in the 1976 film The Amityville Horror, it was not until the 2013 release of The Conjuring that the Warrens figured prominently in movies based on their most notable investigations.

Warrens-2.jpg

Ed Warren’s interest in the paranormal was rooted in the haunted house that he grew up in - and Lorraine’s interest was sparked by Ed as she followed him on visit after visit to any haunted location they could find. The Warrens were both self-taught, self-professed experts in their field: Ed, a demonologist, and Lorraine, a psychic, clairvoyant, and light-trance medium. Fifty years and more than 10,000 cases after opening the New England Society for Psychic Research, the Warrens leave behind a legacy as pioneers in modern paranormal investigation as well as the inspiration for the film that occupies my #1 slot as the scariest movie of all time. So I honor the Warrens with this review of their work through the eyes of the cinema in chronological order of the events.

1952 – The Nun (Released 2018)

nun.jpg

First up is one three spin-offs featuring a character inspired by the Conjuring Universe. Valak, the demon nun from Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, was such a popular horror antagonist that she was awarded her own feature film. The Nun is one of the films in the Conjuring Universe that is purely fictional. The events in the film occurred, coincidentally or not, during the same year the Warrens founded the N.E.S.P.R. And for those of you who still have The Lesser Key of Solomon bookmarked after watching Hereditary, you will find Valak in there as the Grand President of Hell. In The Nun, however, Valak bears no resemblance to the angel-winged boy riding a two-headed dragon described by the infamous spell book.

I really liked The Nun and I found myself in the minority. I’m not sure if the movie got an unfairly bad reception from critics and audiences for being a lesser Conjuring film, or if I just set my expectations low based on some early reviews. If you haven’t seen it or if you want to re-think your bad review, look for a couple of Easter eggs in the film - one on the license plate of the truck and another in the school playground.

frenchie_the_nun.jpg
the-nun.jpg

 

1955 – Annabelle: Creation (Released 2017)

Annabelle-2-Creation.jpg

 The events in the opening scenes of Annabelle: Creation occur in 1943, but the rest of the story is circa 1955. This prequel to Annabelle is entirely fictional in its story of how the doll may have come to be haunted. For this film, the tragic loss of a child, an orphan and an outcast, and a creepy doll all set the stage for a series of paranormal events and demonic possession. I found this the weakest of the films in a movie franchise where the bar is set pretty damn high and it is better than a lot of horror films out there. I mean, who doesn’t love a creepy doll? This is one of only two films in The Conjuring Universe (as of 2019) that does not reference the Warrens in any way. Shout out to Lulu Wilson for her performance in this film as well as Ouija: Origin of Evil (probably my #2 most scary film) and the amazing Haunting of Hill House.

1967 – Annabelle (Released 2014)

annabelle2.jpg

The historic basis for the Annabelle doll is presented in the opening scenes of The Conjuring. The doll was a mother’s birthday gift to her daughter, a nursing student, who hired a medium after the strange events described in the film. Annabelle is a fictional prequel to The Conjuring and does not match the medium’s vision that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a girl whose body was found on the property in the late 1800s.

The couple in the film, John and Mia Form, are named for the actors who played the couple in Rosemary’s baby, a movie also themed around new parents whose forthcoming baby was a target for Satanists. A lot of viewers criticized Annabelle for being a lesser film to The Conjuring. The judgment is probably a fair comparison. Like I said, the bar was set pretty high. I enjoyed this movie, I still find it scary, and I have it on my regular horror rotation.

 

1971 – The Conjuring (Released 2013)

A full-on 5-skull film that holds my top slot for scariest movie of all time, The Conjuring is the first production to put the Warrens in the center stage of a major film based on historical events. While The Exorcist was ground-breaking in it’s shocking portrayal of possession involving a young girl, I find the build-up and the exorcism in The Conjuring more believable and far more terrifying. This film carries an R rating strictly for the scare it delivers; there is no nudity and very little, if any, profanity.

conjuring.jpg

 

1973 – The Curse of La Llorona (Released 2019)

 The Curse of La Llorona is a stand-alone film in the Conjuring Universe and features Father Perez, the same priest who provided the Forms with religious counsel in Annabelle. There are some reported callbacks to The Conjuring but I have no specifics since I haven’t seen the film yet. The legend of La Llorona is real, but the film is fictional. It the second of two movies in The Conjuring Universe to not reference the Warrens in any way.

the-curse-of-la-llorona.jpg

 

1976 – The Amityville Horror (Released 1979)

amityville-murder-house.jpg

The Amityville haunting is the most popular of the cases investigated by the Warrens. The highly successful 1979 movie is still one of my horror favorites. If my math is correct, this movie boasts the shortest time period between the highly controversial events and the movie’s theatrical release – three years. Critics claimed that the haunting was a hoax and that some of those involved later admitted to the fraud. The Lutz’s stood by their claims and as well, the Warrens stood by their investigation confirming the demonic presence. The Warrens were never referred to in the original film or its 2005 remake. In fact the best movie version of their investigation appears in the opening scenes of The Conjuring 2.

There are at least 23 films in the Amityville franchise. None achieved the success of the original and most went straight to video. Sort of makes all of those Friday the 13th and Chucky spin-offs seem like nothing.

 

1977 – The Conjuring 2 (Released 2016)

The Enfield poltergeist is the historical basis for The Conjuring 2. While the film is loosely based on the Warrens’ investigation of these events, critics claim that they were never invited and were not permitted access to the house. I couldn’t find much credible information either way and this movie remains high on my list of favorites. Patrick Wilson endears the viewer with a musical performance that is his own, providing a gentle strength that I think is more representative of the actor than the character.

 

1981 – The Conjuring 3 (Release date 2020)

This film is based on the Warrens’ investigation of Arne Johnson, a Brookfield, Connecticut man who murdered his landlord and plead not guilty to the crime by reason of demonic possession. The Warrens had been called to the home prior to the killing to investigate alleged demonic possession of Johnson’s fiancee’ and her younger brother. After the murders, the Warrens claimed that Johnson was also possessed. This was the first time in history that demonic possession was used as a defense earning it the title, “The Devil Made Me Do It Case.” A huge media blitz surrounded this case and the Warrens were met with the customary criticism we see in virtually all of these cases. I am looking forward to seeing what Vera and Patrick do with this one.

1986 – The Haunting in Connecticut

(Released 2009)

I think one of the most underrated movie in this collection is The Haunting in Connecticut. I first saw this film on a jeep trip to Moab. We grabbed it at a Red Box after a long day of running trails and it scared the Hell out of me. It was even scarier when I watched it again on a larger screen. And then again a few weeks ago while outlining this blog post. If this film missed your radar or if you need a refresher, you can grab it for free on Amazon Prime. You can also find the documentary special, A Haunting in Connecticut, and see for yourself how a movie “based on” a true story compares with the events reported by those who experienced them. Lorraine Warren is featured in the documentary, a rare treat, although there is no reference to the Warrens or any mention of a paranormal investigator in the movie.

haunting-in-connecticut.jpg

 

1974-1989 – The Haunted (Released 1991)

the-haunted-1991.jpg

This “lost Conjuring” film tells the story of the Smurl family haunting that occurred at their home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, The couple claimed they were both tormented and assaulted by demonic spirits over a period of 15 years. The Warrens confirmed the presence of a powerful demon but were accused of being partial and non-objective. Critics were unable to offer an alternate explanation while other inhabitants of the home reported no paranormal experiences. I could not locate this film in any format – hence the description of the film as “lost.” If our friends Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are game, maybe this film can be remade.

 

 

TBA – Annabelle Comes Home (Released 2019)

This film appears on this list as the most recent simply because it is a sequel to the Annabelle series and occurs after The Conjuring. As with the other Annabelle films, it is entirely fictional. The movie welcomes welcome a second alum from Haunting of Hill House, McKenna Grace who played young Theo. Stay tuned for a review as this is the first horror film of 2019 on the movie theater watchlist.

annabelle3.jpg

 

If you’ve made it this far, then maybe you’re willing to go a little further. Open YouTube, search for “Conjuring shorts” and spend 15 minutes or so in that domain. Horror shorts are a thing. You’re welcome.

Museum-closed.JPG

I visited the Warrens official website which is also the site of the N.E.S.P.R. as part of my research for this post. I was surprised to find it poorly designed with unimpressive content that is out of date and not very well written. It is certainly not the way I would to see the Warrens honored for their contribution, I had hoped for something more. But the worst part about the site was the announcement that the occult museum is closed and looking for a new home. That makes me sad because like a lot of fans of the Conjuring Universe, I was drawn to the knowledge that these haunted artifacts were at home with the Warren family, safely tucked away and regularly blessed so they can do no harm.

real-annabelle-doll.jpg

Homeless and haunted - what is next for Annabelle?

What’s in store for 2019 Horror?

into-the-dark.png

2018 was an epic year for horror movies with the 40th anniversary of Halloween putting an end to our wait for the return of Laurie Strode and Michael Meyers. A Quiet Place lived up to its hype - a rare occurrence - and I sort of enjoyed the disturbing effect Hereditary had on its audiences. But from my perspective, a couple of streaming series that were not on the 2018 preview really stole the season. Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House may be the most terrifying and well done horror series I have ever seen. Although Hulu’s Castle Rock - based on themes from the Stephen King universe - is not far behind. Say what you will about the place Netlix. Amazon, and Hulu have in cinema, but these streaming services have turned out some great (and to be fair, not-so-great) stuff these past few years.

And streaming is where we start our 2019 preview. Hulu partnered with Blumhouse productions on another original series, Into the Dark. This horror-themed anthology consists of monthly episodes inspired by a holiday. The series actually released in 2018 and if you’ve seen The Body, Flesh & Blood, or Pooka, you are already watching season 1 of Into the Dark. Let’s get started.

January

January starts the year off with episode 4 of Into the Dark. What happens when a group old high school gal pals get together for a sort of reunion on New Year’s Eve? Find out in New Year, New You. Into the Dark is included with your basic Hulu subscription and it’s worth it for this series alone. The only other horror film released in January is Escape Room. A group of friends find themselves trapped in an escape room … because that’s the point of an escape room. Only this one has deadly consequences. I can only hope there is an axe-throwing follow up on deck.  

 

 February

There are six movies in February’s line-up starting with the Valentine’s episode of Into the Dark, Down. It is followed by a Netflix exclusive, Velvet Buzzsaw. This strangely titled film has an all-star cast that includes Toni Collette, Renee Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal and John Malkovich. Wow. Less star studded are The Prodigy and The Hole in the Ground - films that build their horror themes around children. Kudos to these directors because this is risky business with audiences that have a low threshold for kids in horror - but terrifying when it works. Moving on to the anthology-like Nightmare Cinema starring Mickey Rourke as a movie theater projectionst and curator of individual films selected for the five strangers who are lured into the cinema. Mickey Rourke is pretty creepy on his own so I can only imagine what happens when he is let loose on horror. And Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to a movie that was so much funnier than I expected, rounds out the offerings for the short month.

 March

I had some fun trying to figure out what holiday would be featured in the March episode of Into the Dark, and Treehouse didn’t even come close. You’ll have to watch this one for yourself because the brief descriptions don’t give it away. March also brings us the highly anticipated follow-up to Jordan Peele’s wildly successful horror debut, Get Out. Us is a story of a family terrorized by dopplegangers during their vacation. While the critics gave it almost as much praise as Get Out, the audience was less impressed according to Rotten Tomatoes and my own sources. I am keeping an open mind - and the explanation video on standby. A third films walks the line between science fiction thriller and horror, and that is Captive State. Decide for yourself whether this alien invasion film starring the great John Goodman meets your horror definition.  

April

I really hate April Fool’s day. I just don’t understand 24 hours of practical jokes and misinformation - it’s not funny to me. But it does make for good horror. This month’s episode of Into the Dark, I’m just F**ing with You, takes the April Fool’s theme to a new level of disturbingly sick and wrong. And the first of two new films for 2019 from The Conjuring Universe opens this month. You will recognize the priest in The Curse of La Llorona as the same Father Perez who tried to deliver the Forms from the Annabelle doll in the 2014 prequel to The Conjuring. Trailers are promising. The remake of Pet Semetary is also due out in April. John Lithgow reprises Fred Gwynn’s role as Jud Campbell and while those of us loyal to the original want to be skeptics, it’s John Lithgow… The fourth film this month is The Wind, a turn of the century tale about the effects of isolation on a lonely mind. Sometimes reality is the most terrifying of all horror.

May

If you think Godzilla belongs in horror, then May is your month as the legendary creature fights for supremacy in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Or maybe Superman is more your style. If so then you don’t want to miss Brightburn, a tale about a sinister superman with powers that are used not for good, but for evil. And Blumhouse brings us two films to celebrate mother this month. Episode 8 of Into the Dark, All that We Destroy, will be available to stream on May 1 while Ma, starring the great Octavia Spencer, opens in theaters on May 31.

June

June’s episode of Into the Dark, They Come Knocking, releases on the 1st so turn up the air conditioner and enjoy a summer horror themed film at home because there isn’t much else to keep you cool inside movie theaters as we move into summer. A remake of Child’s Play for those of you who don’t think seven Chucky movies were enough and are ready to start over. This remake is brought to you by the producers of It and features Mark Hamill as the voice of Chucky, so there’s that. The other film set to release in June is The Haunting of Borley Rectory. The Borley Rectory is - was - a real place and is still rumored to have been the most haunted place in the world. The World. That’s a lot to live up to and worth checking out.

 July

July will start with the 10th episode of Into the Dark. Currently untitled my guess is it will be a 4th of July themed horror tale. The second film of 2019 from The Conjuring Universe is the third film dedicated to the Annabelle doll. Annabelle Comes Home occurs chronologically after The Conjuring, making it the most current in terms of events. Some skeptics are wondering if the story has run its course. I love Annabelle so my mind is open. Enjoy the performance by Mckenna Grace who played Young Theo in last year’s hit series, The Haunting of Hill House. She plays the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, Judy, in this film. Midsommer was initially reported to be an August release but this film about a couple vacationing in a village full of eccentric residents should be out in time for your own 4th of July vacation. This film is from the director who brought us Hereditary. ‘Nuff said.

 

August

Five movies help to wind down the summer starting with Episode 11 of Into the Dark. Also untitled, it is a game of guessing what holiday will theme the mid-summer episode. The New Mutants was on last year’s agenda and fans of Marvel comics will be pleased to see a firm release date. Up next is the iconic book series, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, come to life. The film is not yet rated but expect it to be somewhat kid friendly given its roots. In the Tall Grass is also a book come to life, based on a Stephen King novella. There is little information in the movie description but Patrick Wilson should be enough to get you there. Plus it’s rumored to be a Netflix production so readily available. The last film in August definitely won’t get me into the theater and that is the sequel to 47 Meters Down, Uncaged. It is Jaws meets The Descent so my suggestion is you set your standards low, choose a theater with really good popcorn, and let me know if I am wrong. I love to be wrong when I pre-judge bad horror.



September

Who cares if there is only one horror movie in theaters in September? It’s It! Movie posters confirm my prediction of Jessica Chastain as the grown-up version of Beverly Marsh. And the final episode of Season 1, Into the Dark will give you a reason to stay home and catch up on what you’ve missed all year or watch a few of my pre-season selections.

IT-Chapter-Two.jpg

 

October

Woody, Jesse, Emma, and Abigail are back in Zombieland 2: Double Tap. October is a busy month with Allman Halloween Group so here is a chance to take a little break and expect more of the same from this cast of zombie-fighting characters. And since it’s been 15 years since The Devil’s Rejects, it’s time for a sequel there, too. Rob Zombie returns his favorite leading lady to the screen in 3 From Hell. I didn’t find a plot summary but really, do we need one?

 

November

God bless Stephen King for making a film with a November release. Just about the time I should be taking a break from horror, I am like an alcoholic whose booze has been taken away. Just one little fix this month to get us through.

dr-sleep.jpg

December

There are no movies slated for release after November and only a couple of movies announced with TBD release dates in 2019. Polaroid is celebrating its third year on the list. The Lighthouse, a fantasy horror starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, is in post-production waiting on its release date. December may be a good time to break out the holiday horror. Yes, its a thing and I will guide you through it.

If I count each Into the Dark episode separately, there are 35 films slated for 2019. Down ten from last year so not quite as epic in terms of numbers as 2018, but plenty of horror to keep you entertained. And I expect our streaming partners to put out some more original stuff that never makes it to the preview. Happy 2019, let’s enjoy the planned and unplanned horror together.

Seven Reasons Why Netflix's Bird Box Isn’t the Worst Horror Movie Ever

Bird_box_poster.png

Netflix took the Holidays by storm with its original horror film Bird Box.  With superstar Sandra Bullock in the lead role, the film’s propaganda put it somewhere between a suspenseful post-apocalyptic thriller and a ripoff from last year’s blockbuster hit, A Quiet Place. Audiences are divided over the film’s status where the Rotten Tomatoes poll shows “suspenseful masterpiece” trailing just a few percentage points behind “scare free mess.” Take the poll yourself and see where it is today.

blob

For my part, a horror movie during Christmas season sounds like a damn fine way to kick back and relax just before resolution season. And with Netflix being hit or miss lately, I expected a next step in a “Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil” progression. I quite frankly don’t give a rip whether the idea was taken from a previous film. In the horror genre, there are few original concepts.  There is always evil and it is either real, imagined, or supernatural. Movies that elevate the genre by taking old themes to new levels are just fine by me. So if Bird Box can show A Quiet Place just how suspenseful and resolute a sensory deprivation film can be, then I am all in.

But they didn’t. Or rather Bullock, the film’s producer, did not. But instead of having a discussion of which film did it better, let’s honor the forty-something percent of viewers who loved the movie and talk about why Bird Box is not the worst horror film ever.

bird_box_river.png
  1. It deserved a second look. I watched Bird Box twice in one month. I never watch a horror film a second time if it really sucks. Well, maybe I would watch it again if I was, say, held down and had my eyes pried open. Coincidentally, that happens in Bird Box. Try that sometime. Hold an adult person against their will restrained and simultaneously hold both of their eyes open long enough for them to fall victim to the Medusa-like curse. Just one of many plot holes in a movie that almost dares you to roll your eyes - open or closed.

  2. It doesn’t cheat you out of plot holes. I’ve found myself consulting the “movie explained” articles and videos with increasing frequency after I’ve watched a film and said, “huh?” These nuggets are great at filling in plot holes even if sometimes they are made up fills. Bird Box has been criticized for such things as Bullock’s post-apocalyptic hair, make-up and clothes. But what I found missing entirely from the criticism were things like the availability of clean water, food, medical care, and, oh, the infrastructure required for a working GPS. Cited as one of the best scenes from the movie, did the survivors make a routine out of the dangerous grocery runs for 5 years or, since they had GPS, maybe they also had Amazon deliver the mountains of diapers they would have needed in the first three years.

  3. It has adorable kids that give us something to cheer for. A lot of moms who uncharacteristically watched this “horror” movie reported suspense when the children were in danger. That’s really important here because the characters in this film are so uninteresting we don’t much care about them. Kids are an exception. Everybody cares about kids. So what suspense this movie did have was because of the kids. And speaking of kids, where are they? I mean in the beginning. Rewind back to the first scene and ask yourself, “Where are the children?”  The evil made people kill themselves in horrible ways but what happened to the children? Did they succumb to slow death in the absence of caretakers? For all the moms who sat on the edge of their seats when the boat overturned on the river, here was some real potential for suspense. What happened to the children?

  4. It has John Malkovich. If you haven’t seen Burn After Reading, Being John Malkovich or The Shadow of the Vampire, then skip the next Netflix film and watch those movies instead. Malkovich is a great actor who stands out in this cast of mostly uninteresting characters. He is the survivor you want to hate but his ruthlessness feels like it may be important to the plot. Unfortunately, they take him out early in the film and we are left with Bullock’s over the top, almost comical portrayal of a wanna be tough woman so disconnected from human contact that she won’t name her children. Malkovich’s character would steal the show and I submit that he had to be eliminated so as not to overshadow the heroine that we just don’t care about.

  5. Horror fans love post-apocalyptic childbirth. So you can forgive the producer for double-downing on that concept here even though it turned out to be the worst scene in the movie. Even without Emily Blunt’s stunning performance in A Quiet Place, building more suspense with a single scream than all of the contrived scenes in Bird Box, the synchronized childbirth scene was awful. It was almost as if Bird Box was trying to make their scene as noisy and ridiculous as Blunt’s was quiet and brilliant. No wonder somebody jumped out the window. 

  6. The film has a lot of potential. What if the producers had focused on the title of the film and figured the bird box more prominently in the plot? What if the survivors learned early on that the birds sensed danger and could alert them of its presence. And what if they developed a theory that blind people are inherently exposed to unseen danger and surround themselves with birds as an alert system. And what if we go back to the missing children and instead of fast-forwarding five years with four characters, we focus on original survivors who, while caring for newborns, realize that children cannot kill themselves and use the bird box, GPS, and everything else that is a stretch in this film to locate the children and get everyone intentionally to the safety of a blind community. Because people smart enough and ruthless enough to survive for 5 years would have already figured that out.

  7. The Happening may be the worst horror film ever.  So by definition, Bird Box is not. For everyone who compared Bird Box to A Quiet Place and suggested the latter stole the concept (the book on which Bird Box is based was published in 2014), remember that M. Night Shyamalan did all of this back in 2008. I can see why you might have missed it – I missed it. And here again we have another reason to like Bird Box - it made me watch The Happening and The Happening made me appreciate Bird Box. The Happening is awful and you will have to hold me down, inject me with drugs, and staple my eyelids open to make me watch it again.

At the end of the day, I am fully on board with social media that suggests the best part about Bird Box is the memes. A dull plot with a cast of uninteresting survivors led by a woman barking out orders like R. Lee Ermey made my head hurt. Netflix can do better (watch The Haunting of Hill House). Bullock can do better (watch 28 Days). Malkovich didn’t get a chance to do better. And for all the time I spend watching horror movies, I will do better by dropping Bird Box in the recycle bin with two Netflix flops from last year: The Open House and Hold the Dark.  I will save a little room in the bin for Netflix’s upcoming film, IO, just in case the pre-release reviews are right.

2018 Moviefest Week 4+ Finale

haunting-of-hill-house.jpg

It might look like the last week and a half of moviefest has only 15 titles, but if you look closely you will see that one is a television series. The Haunting of Hill House is a Netflix original series that released on October 12. I left this off the moviefest calendar for the simple reason that the schedule was set by September 30 and I assumed this series would release one weekly episode at a time. But all 10 episodes were immediately available and I had some sleepless nights on my hands thanks to a general tendency towards insomnia and a poorly timed case of bronchitis.

The Haunting of Hill House includes the same characters and haunted history as the 1963 film The Haunting and its 1999 remake. Masterfully cast with Timothy Hutton and Henry Thomas playing older and younger versions of Hugh Crane, and Elizabeth Reaser as Shirly Crain with her co-star from Ouija: Origin of Evil playing her younger self. Carla Gugino, who you may remember as the dutiful wife in Gerald’s Game, plays Olivia Crain while co-star Kate Siegel, who also appeared in Gerald’s Game and Ouija: Origin of Evil, plays the adult version of Theo. Siegel also starred in Hush and had a small role in Oculus while Lulu Wilson starred in Annabelle: Creation. Those were just connections to other horror that I made while watching the film. The all-star cast brings us nightmares from the haunted house in a series that is terrifying from the first episode to the last. It is a must-see that nearly earned the coveted 5-skull rating but for the last half of the final episode. There is some family controversy surrounding this episode and whether it cost a skull or made it the best horror series ever. You decide. The Haunting of Hill House is so good and so terrifying that it should take a place at the top of your horror bingefest any time of the year.

And since I have always been a fan of the 1999 remake of The Haunting with its own all-star cast, I squeezed it in after finishing the series to enjoy a different take on the same story. I think I like it even more now.

In the Mouth of Madness is part of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, so named for the bleak endings of the films’ characters. The Thing and Prince of Darkness round out the trilogy. In the Mouth of Madness centers around the disappearance of horror novelist Sutter Caine, a character based on Carpenter’s friend, Stephen King. In addition to references to King and his New England roots, there are plenty of references to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, including the film’s title. Fans of Lovecraft will enjoy this creepy journey through somebody’s nightmare, a 1994 cult favorite that you may have missed until now.

IntheMouthofMadness.jpg
endless3.png

The Endless is a new film about two brothers who escaped a UFO death cult but return a decade later seeking answers. This is a film that crosses genres and I had decided it did not belong on a horror list until the real fun starts to happen. The plot is original and while it seems like it moves a tad slowly in the beginning, it is never boring with a twist that I didn’t see coming. Don’t confuse this film with a one-man film by the same name written, directed and starring Mason Guevara. That one isn’t on any of my lists.

Honorable mention this week to Insidious: The Last Key for being the 4th film in the Insidious series and not sucking. The first two Insidious films are amazing, each as good as the other. And while the last two are lesser stories by comparison, they are decent movies that fill in some of the ghost hunter history with new horrors from the further. The only real criticism I have is that the chronology of the films goes back in time while Lin Shaye gets older. I hope they don’t come back for another sequel – The Conjuring universe failed miserably on its 5th try – but it seems that bad horror movies sell so we’ll see what the future brings.

insidious-last-key-a.jpg
hereditary-house.jpg

Hereditary made its debut in this year’s moviefest. Extensively reviewed in a previous post, it was just as good if not better the second time as it was in the theater. Thank you, Toni Collette.

The last two new films this week include Ghost Stories, an anthology of three unexplained cases of the supernatural that you will want to go back and watch as soon as you finish to fill in what you missed. Partly because this film is very British and the dialogue can be tricky to make out. And partly to see if you can spot where the film is going before it does. The movie got mixed reviews – from very boring to very British. I agree with the latter and really enjoyed the psychological slow burn but you have to like that sort of thing. I do. 

28 Weeks Later is new to the line-up and I gave it two skulls, which is maybe ½ skull more than it deserved in honor of its awesome predecessor. You can argue that people turned into zombie-like flesh eaters because of a lab experiment gone wrong is so far fetched that separated family members finding each other in a huge mass of homicidal confusion can’t be that much of a stretch. But it took the sequel just a step too far for me. Combined with the ridiculous scenario of a military operation allowing a known infected patient into the safe zone after 28 weeks of what can only be described as an apocalyptic cleansing, and I’m out. The action in this movie is a repeat of the first film - there is nothing new here beyond a weak attempt at a family reunion.

Tales from the Crypt (a nightmare from my childhood), Scream, Ouija: Origin of Evil (still terrifying), The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, and Paranormal Activity, and It complete the season. I think I’ve seen It seven or eight times since it came out last year. I will probably put it on the Holiday horror list.

You heard me. Holiday horror.

Final tally for 2018: 45 movies and one television series in 31 days. Nineteen films on the moviefest this year, not bad. I would venture a guess that is close to 100 hours of movies then then I might be suggesting 20% of my waking hours spent at this ghostly hobby. It’s always fun to keep track of what is really scary.