This video tour of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood showcases the bloody mayhem of two walk-through attractions inspired by recent horror films: Evil Dead: Book of the Dead and the eerie shudders of Insidious: Into the Further.
Even if you did not care for the films themselves, you may get a kick out of the walk-through versions. Universal Studios’s annual Halloween attraction is known for meticulously recreating sets, scenes, and characters from the films, and the live aspect allows for an in-your-face approach you simply cannot get on the big screen. Thrill to the ghostly apparition appearing from behind a mirror! Shiver at the sound of chainsaws! Gag at the geysers of blood!
A guided tour through a haunted house you have visited once too often
I’m a boy, I’m a boy,
But my mother won’t admit it.
I’m a boy, I’m a boy,
But if I say I am, I get it.
– from the song that should have been on the soundtrack, “I’m a Boy” by the Who
Those Paranormal Poltergeists are back; no, wait – I mean those Sinister Spooks are back; no, wait – I mean those Insidious Spectres are back, in the latest horror opus from Blumhouse Productions. Malefic forces once again display a remarkable aptitude for malevolently lurking in shadows, ominously opening doors, eerily activating toys, and judiciously picking just the right moment to jump out and say, “BOO!” However, their supernatural shtick is outwearing its welcome, and this sequel to INSIDIOUS (2010) has little to add to its predecessor, except back story – and story ain’t exactly the strength of these films, is it? Consequently, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 feels like a guided tour through a haunted house you have visited once too often:you see the same old scares, and the guide keeps boring you with background details you don’t really need – or want – to know.
BACK STORY: WHEN MORE IS LESS
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 falls prey to the dilemma that afflicts much of supernatural horror: the mysterious, the uncanny, and the unexplained provide a special frisson all their own, but the unexplained can also be dramatically frustrating; haunted house movies almost inevitably risk exorcising their own ghosts by explaining them away.* This problem is exacerbated in INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 because a sequel, by its very nature, is required to give us something we did not get before.
So now we learn that the haunting of the Lambert family did not begin with little Dalton (Ty Simkins) a few years ago; it began with his father Josh (Patrick Wilson in present day, Garrett Ryan in flashback), whose memories were wiped clean to erase the trauma. We also learn the identify of the ghost that Josh brought back with him at the end of INSIDIOUS and learn the murderous back story, involving enforced transvestism and a domineering mother, none of which really matters except to help pad the film out to feature length while avoiding the story that should be told: the story of how Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) reacts to the dawning realization that her husband is not, in fact, her husband.
In case you forgot [BRIEF SPOILER], unlike the father in “Little Girl Lost” (Richard Matheson’s episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Josh never made it back from the limbo world he entered to rescue the soul of his child; Josh’s spirit was left behind, replaced by that of the murderous “Bride in Black,” who turns out to be Parker (Tom Fitzpatrick), who killed only because his mother forced him to. The first act of the possessed Josh was to strangle psychic investigator Elise (Lin Shaye), because having found a foothold in the world of the flesh once again, the first thing a returning spirit wants to do is commit a crime that, in any logical universe, would put him behind bars for the rest of his unnatural life.
With the lamest of lip service, the police investigation of this murder is scuttled in the first reel of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2; even though Josh was the only person in the room with Elise when she was murdered, and even though the house was filled with other people who could attest to this, the police feel they need something more, such as a match between Josh’s hands and the imprint on Elise’s throat. Inexplicably, a phone call from the investigating officer later tells us there is no match, even though nothing in the film indicates that the size of Josh’s hand is physically altered by the spirit possessing his body.
All of this is just an excuse to circumvent the ending of the previous film, so that the screenplay (by Leigh Whannell) can get the Lambert family back into a haunted house again. Things predictably start going bump in the night, but rather absurdly, possessed Josh manages to silence everyone’s fears on this score; for some reason, his wife and his mother (Barbar Hershey) are too stupid to see that there is something wrong with a man who can blithely dismiss the supernatural – after all the havoc it wrecked on their family in the previous film.
Fortunately, Elise’s late co-workers, Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) make contact with the other side and start to figure out that something is not right. This leads to a long trip down memory lane – long enough to blame Parker’s homicidal habits on Mother (yes, just like Norman Bates) without ever really making Mother out to be anything more than a caricature. When she finally appears in the flesh (metaphorically speaking), Danielle Bisutti plays the character with an over-enthusiastic relish more suitable to camp than horror, as if channeling the ghost of Joan Crawford – or more precisely, Faye Dunaway playing Crawford in MOMMY DEAREST. (As she slaps her son for refusing to act like a little girl, you have expect her to start yelling “Wire coat hangers!”)
By this time, Renai is kinda, sorta getting a clue that her husband is not really her husband anymore. It is symptomatic of the script’s problems that she must explain this in the dialogue to her mother-in-law, because we never really see the moment on screen. We are left to wonder what took her so long, and the more unseemly possibilities (i.e., living on intimate terms with a man who is in reality a total stranger) are ignored completely.
Eventually, a few modestly interesting ideas arise: Parker and his mother, far from being evil conspirators, are at odds, Parker hoping for a chance to live the “normal” life his mother denied him. Some of the haunting in the house is due not to Parker and his mother, but to Josh himself, who is waiting helplessly in limbo, hoping to reconnect with his family. And the spirit of Elise lurks somewhere nearby, no doubt waiting for an appropriate moment to intervene.
The last two elements at least provide a break from the current horror formula, in which only malevolent forces have any supernatural power. Unfortunately, the script never thinks through the implications, so the relative strengths of the dearly – and not so dearly – departed vary according to what would keep the good guys at a disadvantage: for example, Ghost Josh can only tinkle a piano keyboard, but Parker’s ghost mother can levitate objects and knock Renai unconscious. Why is Parker’s mother so much stronger? Because she’s evil, I guess.
That really is about as much thought as Whannell put into the story. We also learn that Josh’s body is decaying because of the dead soul inside it. His mother’s ghostly spirit tells him he can prevent this by killing the Lambert family, although why this should help is never explained. Is she lying? Or did the script just feel the need to motivate Possessed Josh’s final-reel shift from incognito intruder to homicidal maniac?
In any case, lke Jack Torrance in THE SHINING, Josh goes full-blown psycho for the final reel, threatening to murder his entire family (he uses a fire extinguisher rather than an ax to break through the door his wife has locked). In one of the film’s few nice touches, Dalton realizes that the astral projection that caused him so much trouble in the first film can enable him to make contact with his real father and bring him back to this earthly plane.
Meanwhile, in another moderately interesting bit, Elise and the real Josh are in limbo, seeking the answers that will exorcise Parker’s mother. Limbo, it seems is not only beyond space but also beyond time, allowing Josh to ask a crucial question of his boyhood self. Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t really reveal anything that will be crucial in defeating the evil spirit, but who’s keeping track?
At least INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 resists the temptation to deliver another last-minute twist that makes nonsense of what came before. However, it succumbs to the urge to dangle a thread intended to set up CHAPTER 3.
AESTHETICS AND ATMOSPHERE
As in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, director James Wan shows an agile hand when it comes to manipulating the elements that go into making an atmospheric horror film. In this case, unfortunately, the familiar nature of the material and the script’s refusal to focus where it should, undermines the shudders, rendering one of Blumhouse Productions’s least effective fright films. As uninspired as the recent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels have been, not to mention SINISTER and DARK SKIES, those films at least delivered some good scares, here and there.
But little of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 matches the shivery sense of menace the infused its predecessor almost from beginning to end; in fact, you have to wait till midpoint for the first decent scare scene, when Specs and Tucker investigate Parker’s old childhood room – and find a child-size version of his spirit haunting the premises. (How this disembodied version of his spirit can be lurking in his old room, while Parker’s actual spirit is currently lodged in Parker’s body, is a question the film never bothers to address, because who cares?)
The cast is nice, but as hard as Patrick Wilson tries, he doesn’t quite have what it takes to suggest a sinister intelligence lurking behind a smiling facade: he’s at his most sinister, when showing up unexpectedly, framed in shadow; when he actually has to act scary, he’s okay at best.
Several of the characters appear in both old and young versions, with greater or lesser success. Older viewers probably know Barbara Hershey too well from her earlier work to buy Jocelin Donahue in flashbacks. Lindsay Seim, on the other hand, is so perfect that you immediately know she is the younger version of Elise, even if you don’t catch the name; the only problem here is a slight awkwardness about the dialogue, as if Seim were lip-synching to words recorded by Lin Shaye.
The emphasis on achieving scares with practical effects is welcome; for example, the afterlife is not some tour-de-force of CGI but essentially void, with faces and bodies appearing out of the darkness. But simply avoiding an over-used technique is not enough; you need to replace it with something else – something better. There was certainly potential here: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 could have been an ominous exploration of ambiguity, if it had focused on the reactions of Josh’s wife and children as his strange, new behavior forced them to ask, “Is this the man we know and love, suffering from post-traumatic stress, or is it a demonic entity in his guise?”
WHAT I LEARNED
Evil ghosts are more powerful than good ghosts.
Baby monitors are scary.
Children’s toys are scary when they move by themselves in a dark room, especially when there is fog inside the room.
Even with a dead body and a houseful of likely suspects ranting about evil spirits, the police will not arrest the man who is obviously guilty.
The guilty party’s wife will be in denial about her husband’s guilt – which is almost understandable – but so will the murder victim’s ghost-hunting associates, who should – maybe, just maybe – consider the possibility of demonic possession.
THE FINAL TALLY
Lacking originality or inspiration, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is slow and tedious; even the occasional well-executed scare-scene is not enough to bring this tired old ghost back to life. Sad to say, the new INSIDIOUS is hideous.
[rating=1] On the CFQ Review Scale: a strong recommendation that you avoid this one. FOOTNOTE:
J-Horror avoids this problem by eschewing explanations – a sore point when those films get remade for Western audiences.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. Blumhouse Productions: September 13, 2013. 105 minutes, PG-13. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Whannell. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Hank Harris, Jocelin Donahue, Lindsay Seim, Danielle Bisutti, Tyler Griffin, Garrett Ryan, Tom Fitzpatrick.
Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here… walk alone.
With Dan Persons on hiatus, the remaining Cinefantastique Podcasters, Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski, ditch the week’s nationwide release, THE SMURFS 2, and time travel back 50 years to lavish praise upon THE HAUNTING (1963), producer-director Robert Wise’s magnificent horror classic, based on the Shirley Jackson novel. Seldom has subtle black-and-white horror yielded such large dividends, creating a memorable chiller whose appeal has extended for decades and should continue to do so for many more to come. If you have experienced the terror, listen in to relive the frightful delights; if you have never visited Hill House, this may be the sales pitch that finally convinces you to spend a night in the haunted abode.
An extended “Unrated Edition” and a single bonus feature (30 minutes of “Recovered Files”) do little to enhance a sequel that seems to have given up the ghost.
When PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 appeared in theatres last year, it suggested that the franchise’s modus operandi had shifted from formula to template: whereas a formula allows for varying the ingredients, a template completely pre-defines the form and structure, allowing only for minor variations in the text being slotted in. The spooks were back, with new victims reprising the basic story line of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2; despite further hints of a cult worshiping the demon responsible for the hauntings depicted in the films, little new emerged, leaving less-forgiving viewers frustrated. The release of an unrated, extended edition of the film – first on VOD, then two weeks later on DVD and Blu-ray – conjured a glimmer of hope that additional scenes might fill out the story and bring PARANORMAL ACTIVITY a step closer to standing on its own rather than merely reprising the same old routines. Alas, that hope was exorcised by the simple expedient of watching the longer version.
Although the Blu-ray disc promises over 30 additional minutes, only nine of those minutes found their way into the unrated edition; the remaining footage is included as the disc’s only bonus feature, under the title “The Recovered Files.” The relative significance – or lack thereof – in the restored material will leave you wondering why certain scenes were deemed worthy of being included in the new cut while others were dumped into the bonus feature. None of these scenes enhance the film much, but the cumulative impact provides a hint into the filmmakers’ method, which apparently consisted of shooting endless variation on the same theme, then whittling it all down in the editing room.
The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Blu-ray disc offers English, French Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks in 5.1 surround sound. The English track is DTS; the others are Dolby. There is also an English Description audio track for those who are visually impaired.
There are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The film is broken up into 15 chapter stops; however, there is no way to access them from the main menu, which offers you options to play either the theatrical cut of the extended version; selecting either options starts the movie, without offering you a scene selection.
The only bonus feature is Recovered Files.
UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION
Clocking in at 1:37, the extended cut of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 runs approximately nine minutes longer than the theatrical version’s 88 minutes. The actual amount of restored footage probably comes closer to ten minutes; the nine-minute difference in running time is partly due to the deletion of the confusing post-credits teaser that appeared in theatres (a lead-in to a planned spin-off series, to be set in the Latino community). The unrated version begin interestingly, with a a few brief scenes related to Halloween: Alex taking Wyatt trick-or-treating; Alex’s mother decorating cookies; Ben dressed in cowboy costume and sitting on alone in the living room, talking to Alex’s cat; Alex in her flimsy fairy costume (Dad jokes about where the rest of the costume is); and Alex and Ben out together at night, catching a glimpse of Alex’s spooky new neighbor Robbie, who will be the cause of so much trouble later. The sequence adds little to the story, but it establishes a mood of fun and safe scares that will gradually be usurped by the horrors that follow.
After the exterior scene in the park (minus the title card noting the date and location: Henderson, Nevada; November 11, 2011), with which the theatrical version opened, there is an unnecessary bit with a character named Jake showing his “palate expander” (a dental device) to Alex and Ben. The scene seems to be establishing Jake as a friend who will share the adventures to follow, but we never see him again (unless you catch a glimpse of him in the background of the sleepover party that takes place later).
The remaining additions are as follows:
Alex’s brother Wyatt and the spooky neighbor kid Robbie watch a brief online video that scares Wyatt but not Robbie (who obviously has a higher tolerance for horror).
Alex wanders around the house, glimpses Robbie (who mysteriously disappears), then suffers a false scare when a door suddenly opens, revealing Mom.
A bit of Wyatt wandering from his bed in the middle of the night is intercut with Alex awakening as if sensing something is wrong. Alex goes downstairs to the living room, where a book mysteriously falls off a shelf twice, and she puts it back (foreshadowing a similar event that will befall her mother later in the picture).
The new scenes provide a few more moments of the patented PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spookiness, but none of them add much of anything that was not already in the film. The inclusion of the book-falling scene is redundant, since almost the exact same action is repeated later in the film.
THE RECOVERED FILES
The confusion does not end there, however. Moving onto “The Recovered Files,” we see scenes that connect to the restored footage or attempt to fill some of the plot holes in the theatrical version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. Why were these scenes left out? Many of them are redundant, but no more so than those that were restored. Though most of the lost files simply offer more of the same, one or two of the scens might actually have improved the film, if only slightly.
The first recovered file is fairly typical of what will follow: an additional comic interaction between Alex and Ben, punctuated by a small scare; in this case, they hear a sound in the backyard.
When the motion-sensitive lights go on outside, Alex sees Robbie creeping around her driveway.
Alex does her geometry homework. Her door mysteriously closes behind her.
Alex, Ben, and their friends play a length game of hide-and-seek inside the house while Alex’s parents are away. Predictably, the scene is loaded with fake scares of the spring-loaded-cat variety; it ends with the friends finding the front door open while the chandelier swings overhead. Jake, the character introduced and then forgotten in the Extended Edition of the film, is featured prominently here.
Ben films Alex playing guitar while an electric fan blows her air, creating a music video effect.
An additional video chat with Alex; after a fade out and fade in, we see Robbie enter (as seen in the film)
Ben films Wyatt and Robbie playing in the sand.
While Alex sleeps, the bedroom door opens, revealing Robbie’s silhouette.
Alex shows the surveillance videos to her mother and asks when Robbie will be leaving.
After the chandelier crash seen in the film, Alex argues with her parents, insisting that something strange is going on.
At night, a toy falls on Wyatt’s bed.
Ben plays Foosballwith Robbie and Wyatt.
In a brief comic scene, the kids play on a slip-in-slide.
Dad comes down stairs to sleep on the couch. A shadow appears, which turns out to be the malevolent Katie.
Mom gives sedatives to Alex, to calm down her fears.
Mom and Dad argue about Alex’s fears. Dad almost seems to believe them, or at least think they should not be dismissed.
At breakfast, Wyatt calls himself Hunter (indicating his falling under Robbie’s influence). Mom and Dad shut him up.
Mom and Dad talk about Alex again. Dad does not believe his daughter is crazy.
The two most significant scenes are the ones in which Alex’s mother and father discuss their daughter’s growing fears about Robbie and possible supernatural phenomena. One of the major flaws with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is that the parents seem absolutely clueless, despite the video evidence that Ben and Alex are gathering. In these two scenes, we see that Alex’s parents are not completely oblivious to the situation; including them would have filled one small plot hole. (Of course, the parents still don’t actually do anything about Alex’s concerns, so including these scenes would only half-fix the problem.)
The Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 presents the film with good image and sound, along with additional footage that could please fans who want more than what they got in theatres. However, none of the additional scenes do much to improve a sequel that merely resurrects the same old ghosts. Note: The unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (minus “The Recovered Files”) is also available on DVD and on Instant Video. You can purchase the disc here or watch the film instantly here.
I might as well say it right at the top: SINISTER – the new film from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY producer Jason Blum – is not very…well…sinister. If we define the word as meaning, “ominous, forbidding, portending of doom,” the film starts well enough, with suggestions of dark and sinister events to come; but soon other words creep into mind: stolid, sluggish, tedious. Unfortunately, the word that will seldom if enter occur to you is scary. From opening titles to closing credits, SINISTER turns out to be a long, dull trek, with shudders that are few and far between.
It is not as if the screenwriters did not try. The opening scenes set up the story very well, cleverly using a confrontation with a local sheriff to lay out necessary exposition without resorting to any obviously expository dialogue. The sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) is unhappy that true-crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is moving into town, with plans to dig up details on an unsolved murder that the local population would rather forget. Oswalt, we soon learn, had his fifteen minutes of fame ten years ago, with a book titled Kentucky Blood, and in a desprate bid to recreate that success, he has moved his family into the actual house where a mass murder of a family took place. (Three guesses on how well this will turn out!)
In a novel twist on the “found footage” genre, Oswalt actually finds some footage – old Super 8 millimeter films in the attic, portraying not only the murder of the family but other, earlier murders. With the help of a local deputy, Oswalt traces the connections, which eventually lead to suggestions of the supernatural: a child-like drawing indicates the presence of “Mr. Boogie” at the scenes of the crimes, and Oswalt sees a shadowy figure in the background of the home movies. This eventually leads to a Skype conversation with a college professor (an unbilled Vincent D’Onofrio) who serves as the traditional “Johnny Explainer,” elaborating on the mythology of an obscure diety known as Bughuul – known for spiriting children off to another realm and devouring their souls.
Unfortunately, the script of SINISTER trips over its own honesty. In laying out the clues, it provides a virtual roadmap for the conclusion; anyone paying attention knows exactly where the story is headed. Which might not be so bad, except that Oswalt for some reason cannot see what is obvious to us.
Seriously: each murder is distinguished by the fact that one family member, a child, went missing. Add that with the childish drawing of the murder, and the fact that Bughuul is known for corrupting children – and what conclusion does that lead you to? Similarly, Oswalt early on realizes that the victims in his current home had lived in a house where the previous set of murders took place. So is there any reason to be worried when Oswalt finally decides he’s had enough, and moves his family out of the haunted residence? Because, you know, if PARANORMAL ACTIVITY taught us nothing else, it’s that ghost are not restricted to specific locations; they target people, wherever they may go.
I’m sorry if all this seems spoiler-ish, but in fact this is just the way SINISTER is laid out. Morever, we have ample reason to see that Oswalt is setting himself up for a fall. Despite much talk about wanting to provide a good life for his family, and also about wanting to see justice being done, it is abundantly clear that the author’s real motivation is greed – a point underlined when he decides not to share his found footage with the police. You just know that kind of moral transgression cannot go unpaid. (And if you think there might be some sort of dramatic arc in which Oswalt learns his lesson, then you probably have not watched any horror films for the past fifteen years.)
Even with a running time stretched to interminable legnth, SINISTER never manages to tie all its elements together. Why Super 8? you ask. But you will not find out. Presumably we’re supposed to assume it relates to the time when the first murders took place, but why did the murders begin then? (One keeps supposing that the timeline will be pushed even further back, suggesting that these killings have been going on for centuries, but nothing every materializes.)
SINISTER is also plagued by the usual inconsistencies seen in the horror genre, in which things happen just because we need them to. So after learning that Bughuul is little known today because most images of him were destroyed by early Christians, we see Oswalt burn Bughuul’s home movies, only – you guessed it – to have them miraculously reappear. Guess Super 8 celluloid is more resilient than ancient frescoes and canvases!
All of this might have been at least partially forgiven if SINISTER had at least offered a few memorable scares, or at least a shiver or two. Instead, the 110-minute running time is padded with endless scenes of Oswalt wandering through the dark corridors of his suburban home, while the audience waits for something – anything – to happen. More often than not, the pay-off is the sight of the Super 8 projector running by itself, suggesting that Baghuul really really likes to watch his old movies again and again. The only truly disturbing scare is not directly associated with Mr. Boogie: Oswalt’s son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) is genuinely unnerving during a sequence in which, suffering from night terrors, he emerges unexpectedly from a box, as if undergoing an epileptic seizure. This one moment easily upstages everything else in the film.
Hawke manages to acquit himself as well as can be expected, in the largely unsympathetic role. Especially in the early scenes, he captures the desperation of a man deliberately exposing himself to abominable horrors – hoping that he can make a buck without losing his soul (or at least his mind) in the process. Also noteworth is James Ransone as the helpful deputy, known only as “Deputy So-and-So” because he offers to be the guy whose name you always see on the acknowledgements page at the beginning of Oswalt’s books, the “Deputy So-and-So, without whom this book could not have been written.”
The rest of the cast are professional enough, and Dalton does a good job of looking disgruntled but legitimately so – not just a one-note antagonist. Unfortunately, much of the action the characters perform is hard to believe, and many of them drop out of the action for so long it is impossible to guild credible character arcs; Oswalt’s wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is particularly hampered by inconsistencies.
In the end, all SINISTER has to offer are a few standard-issue scare techniques: shadowy figures in darkness; a freeze-frame image of Bughuul that comes to life when Oswalt is not looking, etc. But when director Scott Derrickson (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) tries to pull out all the stops, he plays a bum note: the souls of the children pursuing Oswalt (during his umpteenth trip down the dark corridors) just are not terribly terrifying, and their closeups only emphasis the lack of shivers. (They all look like kids dressed up for Halloween, and you want to say, “Oh, how cute! Now go have fun trick-or-treating.”)
As if sensing the dearth of horror, SINISTER offers one final “shock” shot of Bughuul’s face lunging into frame before the closing credits. It’s almost funny: in its desperate attempt to deliver a good scare before sending the audience home, the scene virtually defines the cliche: “too little, too late.” SINISTER (2012). Produced by Jason Blum. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Written by C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, Rob Rile, Tavis Smiley, Janet Zappala, Victoria Leigh, and Nicholas King as Bughuul.
Paramount Pictures releases the third sequel to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Remember PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? More important: remember how the ending left the story wide open for a sequel? Well, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and 3 filled in the back story without really telling us too much about what happened next. At last, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY takes us to a time five years after the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, telling the story of a family who begin to get a bit creeped out after a mysterious woman and a a child move in next door. Could it be our missing characters?
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman directed, from a script by Christopher Landon, based on a story by Chad Feehan. Cast: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Alisha Boe, Tommy Miranda.
“Sinister” producer Jason Blum discusses the difficulties of transferring cinematic horror to a live Halloween event.
Halloween haunted house attractions are no longer much concerned with childhood memories of dilapidated old mansions rumored to be inhabited by ghoulies and ghosties. Today, Halloween haunts are increasingly influenced by movies; this year, for example, Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt and Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights feature walk-through mazes based on such franchises as THE EVIL DEAD, CARRIE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and THE WALKING DEAD.
Add a new name to this list of Halloween horrors inspired by the silver screen. One of the most anticipated haunted house events in Los Angeles this October is the Blumhouse of Horrors, a new live attraction from Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, INSIDIOUS, and SINISTER (which opens nationwide on Friday). These films eschew the modern torture porn approach to the horror genre in favor of supernatural shivers. Some of that subtly is on view inside the Blumhouse of Horrors, although gore fans will find a drop or two of their favorite grue as well.
The Blumhouse of Horrors shares some elements with Delusion: The Blood Rite, another L.A. haunt that mixes drama with scares. Set within a real location (the old Variety Arts Theatre in downtown Los Angeles), the half-hour Blumhouse tour attempts to present a story – in this case, of a magician whose final performance ended with his mysterious disappearance from the stage, along with another man’s wife. Blumhouse of Horrors is not as heavily scripted as Delusion: there are a few dramatic vignettes, but not all of them relate directly to the main story; the characters we see represent the souls of all who died within the premises, whether or not they have anything to do with the magician and his lover. Still, producer Jason Blum believes there may be potential to spin the haunt’s back story into its own feature film.
Whether or not the appeal of Blumhouse of Horrors is strong enough to generate a feature film – remains to be seen. Blum himself says he won’t know until the box office results are tallied at the end of October. In our video interview, conducted on a press-preview night, while the kinks were still being worked out of the ghostly chains rattling in dark hallways, Blum talks about the transition from cinematic horror to the live variety and the challenge of attracting timid audiences to visit something really scary – downtown L.A.
Below, you will find a partial transcript of the interview – which is to say, our rambling questions have been shortened, while Mr. Blum’s answers remain intact. Question: How did you make the transition from producing horror movies to producing a live Halloween event? Jason Blum: We make almost all of our movies in Los Angeles. We use the same crew from movie to movie. A couple of years ago, we were on the set at launch, and we were talking about, “Wouldn’t it be fun to do all these scares that we do in our movies – to try and do them live. That conversation resulted in where we are today. It was a long road to get here, but we finally made it. What are the lessons you learned from horror films that you can apply in Blumhouse of Horrors? Jason Blum: You scare people in the same way, whether it’s a movie, a tv show, or a live event – which is, you distract them over here, and come at them with a jump scare [from another direction]. Secondly, we rely in our movies very much on narrative. I think the story is really important. I think scares are scarier if the audience is involved with a story, so with the haunted house, we tried to come up with a story first and build the scares around it. Hopefully, people will experience it that way. Are there certain kinds of scares that work better in a live situation, when the audience is not separated from them by a movie screen? Jason Blum: There are good and bad things about live. The bad thing is when you mess up, you don’t get another try. In a movie or a tv show, you can either re-edit it or shoot it again. But the good things are that the scares are three-dimensional, and we can do them and watch people’s reaction, and change our story or change our scares a little bit, and keep going. That’s very gratifying as someone who is a scare-maker. What was it like for you to talk through the Blumhouse of Horrors the first time? Did some thing work better than expected, or not as well? Jason Blum: There are surprises in both directions. That’s a really fun thing about this: there are certain things that do work way better than you expect. And certain things that when we were describing it – “Oh this is going to be the best thing!” – don’t work at all. That’s been a fun kind of discovery process. So, will this be a work in progress – tinkering all month long? Jason Blum: Yes, it will. I hope that we’ll do more of certain things and less of others, and learn from the people who go through. Hopefully people will come back and see something they didn’t see before or experience something new. Chicken and the egg question: Which came first, the story or the location? Jason Blum: The idea to do a haunted house came first; building came second; story came third. But the story came from looking at the building and working a story in that would work in this location. Did you develop the story on your own or work with others? Jason Blum: I didn’t come up with anything in here on my own. Our company provides a framework for people who are more creative than me, who are great at what they do, and we let them do it and encourage them to do it. Jennifer Spence and Tom Spence, are a production designer and an art director who have worked on many movies for us, and they were the creative forces behind this. With INSIDIOUS, SINISTER, and now Blumhouse of Horrors, what lessons have you tried to carry through from the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY? Jason Blum: What I learned from the first Paranormal Activity, and what we’ve tried to recreate in Insidious, Sinister, and now this haunted house, is how important story-telling is to horror. Most people think horror is about scares; most people put scares first and story second. We really put story first and scares second.
Is there a concern that you have set yourself a high hurdle to clear? Some people are afraid to make a special trip downtown, so perhaps “good” won’t be good enough to draw an audience? Jason Blum: I think we have to be great to get people to come here. I didn’t want to lose money doing this, but profit was not the main reason we did this. We did this to develop a muscle in a different medium for the company. I think it’s a challenge. We have a guess how many people we hope to get in here, and if you ask me in a month I’ll tell you if we hit it or not. Are you planning to resurrect Blumhouse of Horrors next year? Jason Blum: I can’t think that far ahead. I’m just trying to make it to November 3rd right now!
If the Blumhouse of Horrors keeps improving, it could rank among the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. Currently, its strength lies in the wonderful location, whose authentic atmosphere lends an aura of conviction to the action. However, the story-telling at Blumhouse of Horrors falls short of Delusion, and the ending (at least on preview night) was strangely anti-climactic. Here’s hoping the witch’s brew is fully double-boiled, toiled and troubled by the time Halloween rolls around. The Blumhouse of Horrors is set in the Variety Arts Theatre, 940 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017. Performances dates are October 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, 29,31, November 1-3. Hours are 6pm to midnight. Tickets are available at the official website: $29 for general admission; $55 for VIP (front of the line).
With no new horror, fantasy, or science fiction films opening this weekend, Cinefantastique stalwarts Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski keep their Sense of Wonder alive by turning the clock back five decades for a retrospective celebration of TALES OF TERROR (1962), producer-director Roger Corman’s fourth film inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. With a witty screenplay by Richard Matheson (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), and a cast including Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone, this three-part anthology serves up the expected chills and thrills, along with a perhaps unexpected dose of merriment, in MORELLA, THE BLACK CAT, and THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR. The result is a classic example of 1960s terror cinema, colorful and atmospheric, with impressive art direction by Daniel Haller, beautifully captured by cinematographer Floyd Crosby, with an ethereal score by Les Baxter.
So listen in as Steve and Larry open the vault to exhume the buried behind-the-scenes secrets and the arcane aesthetics of this popuri of Poe. The result is a scintillating CFQ Spotlight podcast, which answers the immortal question: What the hell happened to that missing limbo scene?
The Christmas season is upon us, and as we have had occasion to mention, that means ghosts and spirits. And what greater Christmas ghost story is there than Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL? That is the subject of this week’s Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast: Dan Persons, guest John W. Morehead (of Theofantastique.com), and Steve Biodrowski take a look back at the original novel and the numerous film and television adaptations, both live action and animated, that have brought not only Scrooge but also Jacob Marley and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to life on the screen. Listen for fond remembrances of everything from the 1951 classic SCROOGE starring Alistair Sim to the 1970 musical starring Albert Finney, from George C. Scott to Patrick Stewart, not to mention Mr. Magoo, the Muppets, and Doctor Who!
There is a tradition in Japan to present ghost stories during the warm summer months. An 18th century kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya provided the most popular and durable storyline – that of an ambitious, would-be samurai named Iemon who marries and then murders Iwa, whose ghost returns to wreak revenge on her faithless husband.The story has been filmed numerous times; director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 version THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) is, many feel, the best filmed adaptation of this classic Japanese tale.
Though most versions of the tale follow the same basic storyline, there are interesting variations. There were several silent adaptations, now mostly lost, including Daisuke Ito’s silent YOTSUYA GHOST STORY NEW EDITION (Shinpan yotsuya kaidan, Nikkatsu, 1928), which starred Matsumoto Taisuke as Iyemon, & Fushimi Naoe in a double role as Oiwa & Osode. Other silent versions include Inoue Kintarou’s IROHAGANA YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), Nakagawa Shirou’s TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), one by film pioneer Shozu Makino from 1912, and over a dozen others. Early talkie versions were done in 1936 by Furumi Takuji and in 1937 by Onoe Eigorou. Keisuke Kinoshita did a two-part political version in 1949 that did its best to eliminate the ghost elements of the tale, making Iemon sympathetic.
Masaki Mori’s 1956 version featured Tomisaburo Wakayama, best known as Itto Ogami from the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. Wakayama starred also in the 1961 version directed by Yasushi Kato known as KAIDAN OIWA NO BUREI (GHOST OF OIWA). The same year as Nakagawa’s color version, Kenji Misumi did a black-and-white version released in the U.S. as THOU SHALT NOT BE JEALOUS, starring Kazuo Hasegawa.
Kazuo Mori, best known for the Zatoichi series, did YATSUYA KAIDAN: OIWA NO BUREI (CURSE OF THE GHOST aka GHOST OF OIWA) in 1969. 1981 brought the release of MASHO NO NATSU: YATSUYA KAIDAN YORI (aka SUMMER DEMON or SUMMER OF EVIL) from Yukio Ninagawa. Kinji Fukasaku (MESSAGE FROM SPACE; BATTLE ROYALE) contributed the notable CREST OF BETRAYAL version in 1994, that actually manages to combine both the Yotsuya ghost story with the tale of the 47 Ronin, two of Japan’s most popular tales.
Nakagawa is considered by many to have been Japan’s first great horror director. In addition to his version of THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA, he also directed SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE (Kaidan Hebi-Onna, 1968), JIGOKU (“Hell,” 1960), LADY VAMPIRE (Onna Kyuketsuki, 1959), THE GHOST OF KASANE (Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi, 1957), BLACK CAT MANSION (Borei Kaibyo Yashiki, 1958), and others.
A few things that distinguish Nakagawa’s version of the tale is that this Shintoho production was the first in color and widescreen. Shigeru Amachi, who also starred in Nakagawa’s famed evocation of Buddhist hell JIGOKU, gives a strong performance as Iemon Tamiya, a drunken, libertine ronin (i.e. a samurai without a lord to serve). At the start of the film, he accosts some nobles and asks one of them, Samon (Shinjiro Asano), for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Samon has a low opinion of the wastrel and turns Iemon down flat, infuriating the ronin so that he takes his sword and kills the entire group as they flee from his rage.
Iemon, realizing that murdering his intended bride’s father will not endear him to her – not to mention how the constabulary is likely to react to multiple homicides – conspires with his partner-in-crime Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) to lay the blame on a local bandit Usaburo, claiming that they valiantly fought a band of ruffians who got away. Iemon promises Iwa (Kazuko Wakasugi) that he will avenge her father’s murder, securing her hand in marriage and her fortune for himself.
Naosuke becomes attracted to Iwa’s sister Osode, and threatens to expose Iemon if he will not assist in eliminating the sisters’ suspicious brother. When the brother goes to a sacred waterfall to pray for justice, the rogues stab him in the back and push him off the cliff. They return to town with a story about how they were attacked by the same bandits as before, and the pair split up to seek the non-existent bandits.
Iemon and Iwa have a child, but Iemon proves a poor husband, spending most of his nights out drinking, while Iwa begins to suffer from ill health. Iemon gambles most of his wife’s money away, but one night he inadvertently foils a mugging, causing the robbers to flee and the nobles to thank him effulsively, while Iemon instantly falls for the nobleman’s lovely daughter Ume (Junko Ikeuchi). The nobleman offers Iemon a reward, and Iemon ironically responds with the same speech about honor that Samon had given him right before Iemon had murdered him.
Meanwhile, Naosuke is frustrated that Osode refuses to marry or sleep with him until he makes good his promise to avenge her father’s death. When Iemon happens to bump into Naosuke, Naosuke wonders whether he can pull off the murdering bandits gimmick a third time, but resolves that he’ll need another plan. Naosuke comes up with the idea of procuring some poison to kill Iwa to make way for Iemon to marry Ume. Because the portly village massues Takuetsu (Jun Otomo) is constantly coming by to see the ailing Iwa, a rumor has sprung up that the pair are having an affair. Naosuke sees how Iemon can claim to have caught the pair in flagrante to justify the murder of his wife. Dishonorable to the core, Iemon readily agrees to the plan and conspires to make Takuetsu his patsy.
In a telling scene, Iwa cries tears of joy that her husband has started treating her kindly for a change, apparently attempting to see to her happiness rather than being thoroughly selfish all the time. Little does she realize that his thoughtfulness in giving her the medicine she requires is simply a ruse to provide poison in her cup of tea. Takuetsu comes to give her a massage and starts coming on to her because Iemon has suggested that she fancies the doctor: however, Iwa, innocent and loyal to her faithless husband, is shocked by Takuetsu’s behavior. Then it is Takuetsu’s turn to be shocked as the poison causes the skin on Iwa’s forehead to break out and become discolored, depriving her of her beauty. The shaken Takuetsu confesses that it was Iemon who asked him to seduce her. Realizing the extent of Iemon’s treachery, Iwa vows to kill their infant child rather than leave it to such a father. (Nakagawa doesn’t show this death, but the baby disappears from thenceforth, suggesting that Iwa did indeed carry out her vow). When Iemon returns, he kills Takuestu for “betraying” him, and then with Naosuke’s help, nails the body of Takuetsu and Iwa to the shutters from his house, and has them carried to the local lake and cast into the water to sink. Naosuke finally sees the bandit that he had earlier blamed the other murders on, and proceeds to stab the bandit in the back so that he can finally marry Osode.
It is at this point that the genre elements now dominate the film. Iemon becomes haunted by visions of his dead wife nailed to the shutter. Naosuke snags Iwa’s comb and kimono with his fishing line and makes the mistake of taking them home to Iwa’s sister, who naturally recognizes these very personal items. When Iwa’s apparition appears in Naosuke’s home, he breaks down and confesses to helping Iemon kill Samon.
Iemon visits Ume’s parents, but when Iwa’s ghost reappears, he strikes out, killing his prospective bride and his prospective father-in-law when his blade passes through the ghost and strikes them instead. Osode finds that her brother wasn’t dead after all, but survived his attack, and the pair team up to get their revenge. Nakagawa gives the film a very rich look, with beautiful art direction and lighting. Unlike American or European horror films fo the era, however, there is not much attempt to build atmosphere — no creepy sounds, crashing thunderstorms, or howling winds to generate feelings of dread. Instead, the film is briskly paced and presents the supernatural elements rather matter-of-factly. Nonetheless, there is some terrific imagery in the latter part of GHOSTY STORY OF YOTSUYA, particularly the makeup on Iwa and the image of bloody water or bodies floating on shutters in the air.
The narrative very much fits into the Japanese tradition of critiquing corruption and the lack of honor among those most entrusted with upholding the honorable traditions. Iemon is a most thorough villain, as is Naosuke, and we know inevitably they will be paid to pay for their terrible crimes. Nakagawa does a great job of building our suspense in finding just how such vengeance will be extracted.
Nakagawa depicts the ghosts so that they may well be figments of Iemon’s wicked imagination – a sudden appearance of conscience in a hitherto totally immoral character. As in THE GHOST OF KASANE, spirits provoke and enrage Iemon until he takes action that drives him to his own self-destruction. (A few years later, Mario Bava adopted a similar approach in such films as BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY, KILL, in which ghostly vengeance is staged so ambiguously that it appears the victims may actually be killing themselves.) THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA isn’t a film for those with attention-deficient disorder. The characters are solidly portrayed and the psychologies are built up before there is much in the way of a pay-off. However, I must say that I find the conclusion far more satisfying than those endless horror films of the recent past which substitute a few seconds of explicit gore for interesting characterization or a plot worth paying attention to. THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, 1959). Director: Nobuo Nakagawa. Cinematographer: Tadashi Nishimoto. Music: Michiaki Watanabe. Producer: Mitsugu Okura. Cast: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Shuntaro Emi, Junko Ikeuchi, Ryozaburo Nakamura, Jun Otomo, Kazuko Wakasugi Writer: Masayoshi Onuki, Yoshihiro Ishikawa.