The Lore of Halloween Pt.1 Halloween 1978


Happy Anniversary 

Today I will be celebrating 40 years since the release of John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween by seeing a special anniversary showing at our local Picture House. In light of this milestone, as well as the coinciding release of the as ever imaginatively titled ‘Halloween 2018,’ I am posting a series on the lore of the Halloween franchise. I will cover Halloween 1-3 individually, 5-6 together, and 7-8 together with maybe a brief note on Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imaginings.’  ghost myers

Worse than a sequel

In my eyes, what is so much worse than a bad sequel or the modern ‘re-imagining’ of a classic film is the current craze for erasing the history and lore of a franchise so that it can run on and on unencumbered in a new direction. The Halloween films are undoubtedly the worst offenders with the latest installment, ‘Halloween 2018,’ depicting a Back to the Future 2 style vision of a possible outcome for Laurie Strode had she not died (technically more than once) earlier in the franchise. The series now has as many dead ends as dead bodies and it’s a shame; as nearly all the Halloween sequels have achieved some level of cult status and are beloved by fans if not critics.

Fake news

One of the key messages put across in the ‘Halloween 2018‘ trailer is that the timeline in which Laurie Strode was Michael Myers brother is a rumor or FAKE NEWS as right-wing America might say. To me, this is a great pity. A sequel can be ‘of its time,’ relevant, and attract a new audience while still ‘making good on its promises’ if you will.
However, Loyal fans are rightly excited (as am I) to see Jamie Lee Curtis return to Haddonfield in full female action hero mode. And perhaps pop culture is merely reflecting the polarisation in our current climate, but my ideal Halloween sequel would build a bridge between the lore of Curse of Michael Myers and H20 rather than a wall.

Halloween 1978 The night he came home

The film opens with six-year-old Michael Myers murdering his older sister on Halloween night after witnessing her have sex with her boyfriend. We see the crime through the eyes of the killer and it is only after we get the shocking reveal that he is merely a child.
Michael Myers is stunted, trapped in that hideous moment and doomed to forever re-live it. His psychiatrist Sam Loomis, played by the late great Donald Pleasence, recognises this describing him with one of the greatest monologues in cinema:


“I met this… six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and… the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” – Sam Loomis, Halloween

There is no Michael Myers after this point, he has no personality, no puberty, no adulthood. He instead becomes what John Carpenter likes to refer to as ‘the shape;’ a signifier for the terror or the unknown. His one drive is to return to Haddonfield to re-live the moment he killed his sister over and over. Which of course he does, escaping the Sanitarium and terrorising teenager Laurie Strode and her girlfriends.


Heroine Laurie Strode, played by the sublime Jamie Lee-Curtis in her debut film role, has very little backstory in the original movie. We know her dad is an estate agent because we briefly see him ask Laurie to drop off some keys at the old Myers house. (It is loosely suggested that this is the point at which she becomes a target for Myers) Her two best friends are the high-spirited, ill-fated Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Keyes) Laurie is the more studious, practical one of the three, taking her babysitter role the most seriously, but she does have a crush on a boy named Ben Tramer and she is happy to smoke pot with Annie on the way to babysitting.

laurie strode


While Myers stalks Laurie, Loomis is running around all over town trying to get the authorities, including Annie’s father Sheriff Brackett, to take steps to track Michael down before he kills. Loomis is largely treated as a crank because no one can imagine a beautiful, small town becoming the scene of horrible violence. This is likely one of the reasons that Halloween chimed with American audiences so well as during the seventies a spate of serial killings shocked the nation into re-evaluating how safe people felt in their own communities.

Style and criticism  

A couple of things the original has that is not particularly carry over to its sequels are; the use of POV as Michael stalks the neighborhood. Some of the films try a similar approach but don’t pull it off as successfully. This was really unique and innovative at the time but also resulted in claims that the film was misogynistic (the film’s nudity probably didn’t help either)


This is a shame because a special thing Halloween has that its sequels and a lot of more modern movies (like Tarantino’s Deathproof, 2007) don’t are well written female characters that give a genuine portrayal of female friendship. Maybe Lynda and Annie sleep with their boyfriends but they are so fun, wise-talking and likable that it is all the more shocking and tragic when SPOILER ALERT they die.
Halloween was co-written and produced by the late great Debra Hill. Her contribution the scripting and the casting of the female leads cannot be overestimated. Thanks to her successful partnership with JC Halloween will hopefully be remembered for another 40 years!
Next time Halloween II


Halloween was as thrilling as ever at the showing I watched last night. It was preceded by a somewhat bizarre/laughable DVD extra style featurette on the career of John Carpenter. Although it was really great to see exerts of a (fairly dated) interview with JC I don’t recall Debra Hill’s name being mentioned once in relation to Halloween. It is so easy for women to get written out of history. Hearing about Hill’s contribution to one of my all-time favorite films really inspired me growing up and I urge horror fans to find out more about her. She regularly worked as a producer on Carpenter’s films and collaborated with him on the screenplays for Halloween II and The Fog.


it follows

ItFollows_QuadIt Follows is an innovative indi style horror from director David Robert Mitchell. Jay, played by IT girl of the contemporary horror scene Maika Monroe, goes on a date with Hugh, a guy she knows very little. They have consensual sex and yet she ends up drugged and tied to a wheelchair in a deserted underpass. Her date passes something on to her, a monster that follows its host wherever they go until they either pass it on to someone else or end up dead. Hugh is very obliging with information about the entity that Jay is about encounter because if it kills her it goes back down the line to him (Final Destination style) Only the host can see the entity, it can look like anybody; ‘a stranger in a crowd or somebody you love,’ and from the second Jay is unceremoniously dumped at the side of the road in her underwear until the end of the picture it is a grueling and exhausting race against time for her and us to outrun/walk this nightmare.
it follows carIt Follows is a film built around feeling and impression rather than dialogue, or action for that matter and is a good example of American independent horror’s move towards art house. Whilst the paranoid premise of the film is undeniably conveyed in an original way, the idea that someone has been replaced or taken over by a malevolent copy is a long standing theme within the sci-fi genre. It Follows owes a small debt to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, (1956, Don Siegel & 1978, Philip Kaufman) The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) and The Faculty, (1998, Robert Rodriguez) the film itself tips its hat early on to the films of the 50’s in which it has it’s roots, during a scene were the main group of kids sit around a small television watching a late night black and white sci-fi. (if any one can identify the film i would be interested to know) This idea of eating from a bowl of snacks while watching an influential but perhaps overlooked B movie seems to me to be a reference to the other big influence on this film; John Carpenter, the next biggest being Wes Craven.
it-follows-wheel chairFilms from this new wave of young American horror filmmakers like It Follows, or recently The Guest, seem to engage in a kind of neo-postmodernism where they are obviously heavily influenced by those who came before like JC and Argento, but chose to be much more subtle with their references than their 90’s pop culture cousins like Scream. (1996, Wes Craven) It Follows may begin with a girl named Annie running out of a familiar house in a familiar street looking like she is being chased by Michael Myers but that really is as heavy handed as it gets. (aside from the music) This low fi approach may be in response to a culture so over-saturated with on demand TV and film that the traditional ‘water cooler’ moment has been eroded to a point where it is now unattainable for an individual to have a rounded knowledge of popular culture like the geeks of yesteryear. It has become preferential to include small details that audience members can chose to look for without jarring the flow of the narrative for those without the same referential framework.
It-follows-mirrorThe 8-bit, video game style soundtrack is on point yet over the top, verging on distracting, while edging perilously in the direction of style over substance. I like the general idea of the soundtrack and in someways I like the music, but a soundtrack needs to be able to be subtle as well as showy to bring a range of tones to its subject. When someone is simply looking in a mirror and the soundtrack is going hell for leather it becomes almost comical. The sound design on the other hand was really impressive, not just chilling, but one of the only times in a cinema when I feel I have genuinely experienced the fabled ‘surround sound’ experience.
There were a few (I presume) unintentional laughs,the ‘Jaws (1975, Stephen Speilberg) beach moment,’ and the ‘mother as succubus moment’ are a couple of examples. For me this lightness played well against the impressively oppressive terror and added charm to the film. This seems like a good point to breifly mention the recurring use of pretentious literary quotes, that did not fit in at all, but lets move on to the underlying themes of It Follows;
In the run up to its release I heard via word of mouth a lot of people bandying around the idea that It Follows is about the horror of sexually transmitted diseases, and to an extent I a sure that this is the case. On the surface the kids in the film are all quite ordinary, melancholic perhaps, but without any particularly obvious problems. But there is an undercurrent of sexual perversion, abuse, disease, and drug induced mental problems. What follows Jay and the others in my view are the horrors of childhood sexual abuse. We hear about, and at one point catch a faceless glimpse of Jay and Kelly’s mother, but it is not until the end sequence of the film that we become truly aware of the absence of their father. The creature following them goes through  many incarnations but it’s final face (look away now if you think this spoils it for you) is the face of her father. The father is the root of the terror that follows her her whole life and blights her future relationships.
it follows abandoned houseThe effects of what Jay is given include sleeplessness, anxiety, and an inability to get close to individuals. Embarking on a new physical relationship becomes a huge decision and her decision making in general when it comes to relationships has been impaired. The girls empathetic childhood friend Paul twice questions why Jay has chosen to date/sleep with first Hugh and then Greg over himself. If I were to take a guess I would suggest it is because Jay’s self worth has been destroyed and it is easier for her to do the opposite of what might be best for her. Before Jay gets tied to the wheelchair and stuff gets nuts there are two moments where we are given either a first person perspective, or a general opportunity to empathise with the character; in the garden pool, and post coital in the car. These moments could be seen as the equilibrium before the storm, but to me these moments hint that something was already not right before Hugh passes the thing onto her, something that caused her to make the retrospectively bad decision to sleep with someone she barley knew in the first place.
Jay receives a huge amount of support during the events of the film from her sister and young friends. Adults are largely absent from the narrative, the kids must rely on each other. It is a common theme of the films of Wes Craven that parents and authority figures are at worst a threat and at best completely ineffectual in understanding the issues effecting the young people this, coupled with the idea of staying up all night, is why as I mentioned earlier I see Craven as probably the second biggest influence on the film.
it follows swimming poolFrom a horror point of view it would have been best for the end titles to come up over the blood swirling outwards across the swimming pool, but I can understand why the filmmaker chose to clear up a few plot points after that. The ending is in some ways a happy one with an unsettling edge. It is almost obligatory these days to hint that the horror might be inescapable, but in this case it was a necessity. It is a delight to be able to go to the cinema an see a horror film (or any film for that matter) where you don’t know for certain what might happen in the end. I can say with a high level of certainty that It Follows is an instant classic, and will be the joy of film theorists for decades. I fully recommended you see this film.

The woman in black 2 angel of death

Hammer’s The Woman in Black (dir James Watkins) was the runaway smash hit of 2012 and it was almost inevitable that a sequel would come along. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (dir Tom Harper) is set during WWII and is the story of Eve, played by Phoebe Fox, a teacher who, along with her headmistress, (Helen McCrory) is tasked with evacuating a group of school children from London to relative safety in the countryside. The group must stay at the ill-famed Eel Marsh house, but upon arrival they learn that they are the first group to arrive and will be alone in the house for a week. Eve is drawn to look after one of the children in particular, Edward, who has recently been orphaned and is so traumatised that he cannot speak. Eve feels connected to him because she has not recovered from the lost her own child upon birth to the authorities. Eve and Jean her headmistress have very different ideas about how to deal with children (Eve is soft and Jean is stern) All of these factors make Eve and Edward extremely susceptible to the effects of the eponymous ‘woman in black’ who, still bitter from the loss of her own son out in the bay, likes to go around killing children and snatching their souls just by appearing to them. Needless to say all the evacuee children are in danger.
evacueesAngel of Death’s World War II setting adds to the haunting air created by the beautiful, and atmospheric set design, cinematography and costume. Using the experiences of the evacuees as a backdrop is very interesting and evokes the loneliness and isolation of life in a strange place in the middle of nowhere. Angel of Death keeps true to the period thematically; the women are left on their own to look after the kids in a house with limited resources, the only adult male figure is Dr. Rhodes, (Adrian Rawlins) who was presumably not called up to fight due to his age and job role, and is extremely busy playing his part for the War effort in other ways which, as he explains to Eve at one point is why he is unable to help the women with the repairs of the house. There is of course Jeremy Irvine as pilot Harry Burnstow, who is perhaps a little wooden, however I presume this is intentional as I believe his character represents the ghosts of all the young men who have gone off to War never to return. So although he is a love interest for Eve and a real live character I cannot really count him as a live male figure within the film because he is fated from the first to forever live with his dead flight crew at the bottom of the sea.
WIBAOD_STILL-09.jpgTrauma is a prominent theme in this film. Characters like Jean, who comes from a family of professional soldiers, and the Doctor who has his training find it easier to cope and carry on with everyday life but characters like Eve and Edward, who represent the ordinary civilian population, find it harder to deal with pressures of War and loss. Harry is so traumatised by the deaths of his crew that he can no longer fly due to his acute fear of water, he has become a shell. Fox gives a brilliantly subtle performance as Eve, who tries to smile through her sadness, suicide is another big theme of the Woman in Black films, and there are a few moments during the film where it is hard to know if Eve (or Harry for that matter) has the will to make it through to the end.
eveAngel of Death has not had quite the commercial success enjoyed by its predecessor, this is likely to be because Fox is a relative unknown and Irvine does not have the same star power as Daniel Radcliffe to pull people in. (Although if you were wondering where you had seen Dr. Rhodes before it is because Rawlins played James Potter, Harry’s father in the Harry Potter films)
Despite the lackluster reviews I personally prefer the classic ‘British ghost story’ atmosphere of Angel of Death. The film is rammed full of hard jump scares, mostly genuine ones too, which keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Angel of Death may not be an earth shattering horror film, but Hammer consistently produce good quality horror films with a beautiful, classically Gothic aesthetic. Worth a watch.

The Babadook

babadook poster2014 is well and truly over so I thought I would post my belated review of what emerged as the best original horror or the year; The Babadook. The Babadook is the story of a single mother Amelia, played by Essie Davis, who is struggling to come to terms with bringing up her troubled son Samuel alone after the tragic death of her husband in a car accident. Samuel is already rambunctious but after he finds a mysterious kids popup book called ‘The Babadook’ that gives him nightmares he becomes even more unruly leaving Amelia sleepless and vulnerable as the Babadook slowly starts to step off the page into the real world. The Babadook wants Amelia to kill her dog, her son and then kill herself.
The BadadookThe figure of the Babadook represents mental illness; Amelia isn’t coping with the loss of her husband. The husbands death coincided with the birth of her son, she and her son are isolated, with only each other for company the sons presence is a constant reminder of the husbands absence. The popup book states that ‘you can’t get rid of the Babadook’ just as you can’t fully get rid of mental illness you can only learn to cope with it. Amelia has to learn to compartmentalise her illness and not to let it run her life, her ‘real self’ has to want to be stronger than the Babadook in order to stop it from taking everything she cares about from her. Spoiler alert; this is why at the end of the film we see that she is keeping the Babadook in the basement and bringing it food everyday; because you can’t get rid of the Babadook, only keep it under control.
babadook book pageThe Babadook is a scary film (some have called it the scariest of the year) because in many ways it is a realistic portrayal of how child abuse happens. A vulnerable person develops mental illness and the wider society is unwilling to help. Institutions (the police and child services in this film) are disapproving and seek to place blame, relatives take the ‘pull yourself together’ approach and stay distant. The only person in the film who shows understanding towards Amelia is her elderly neighbor Mrs Roach who has her own struggle with Parkinson’s to contend with.
The BabadookOne of the reasons this is able to happen is because modern Western capitalist society is geared towards making money with the ability to be a consumer seen as a key to social status. Someone like Amelia who finds it hard to make it to work because of her personal struggles is therefore simply seen as a broken link in a chain to be discarded. This is lightly touched on in the scene where Amelia and Samuel visit her sister for her sister’s daughters Birthday party. The scene opens with the young girl complaining that she has been gifted the same doll twice, her mother’s response is that now the doll has a twin that she can go shopping with. All the other mums are immaculately made up and spend their time talking about their husbands business acquisitions. When Amelia suggests that the women’s perceived problem, such as not having enough time to go to the gym, are not very important in the grand scheme of things she is immediately ostracised by the group. The resulting social embarrassment persuades Amelia’s sister to stop seeing Amelia and Samuel for the foreseeable future leaving the pair even more isolated and at greater risk from ‘the Babadook.’
In the scenes when the Babadook appears it takes on the physical form of the dead husbands suit of clothes that Amelia has kept hanging up in the basement. Occasionally in dream sequences and during delirium the Babadook visits Amelia with her husbands face, and speaks to her as if through her husband suggesting that they can be together again after she gives him her son. This choice of imagery for the Babadook emphasizes that Amelia’s psychological state is deeply tied to the loss of her husband.
Babadppk i the wardrobeSamuel must take on additional responsibility in the absence of the ‘normal’ mother, and he must fight to rid his mother of the Babadook’s influence. Samuel sees his mother as infected or possessed by the Babadook. Where as the mother sees the father’s personal traits and possessions as painful things to be forgotten or hidden Samuel uses these as strengths to use to stop the Babadook. Samuel’s fascination with magic and magicians is the most notable example of this; he uses magic tricks and traps to escape when his mother is infected by the creature.
babadook screamThe Babadook is a well made film; the constant visual references to magic tricks, use of silent film clips and affecting sound design when the creature is around is impressive. Directer Jennifer Kent shows a good understanding of the mother child relationship and manages to represent a psychological horror that is consistently intense without becoming melodramatic. One of the things that usually puts me off of watching psychological horrors is the tendency for the woman, who is usually at the center of events, to be portrayed as psychologically or supernaturally vulnerable due to ‘weak mindedness.’ This is not the case with Babadook; Amelia may indeed be suffering from mental health issues, but she is always portrayed in a fair and even handed manner. I look forward to seeing more from Kent in the future.


The Guest

Guest poster here to helpAn 80’s B movie influenced thriller with horror elements from Your Next (2011) director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. The Guest is a big departure for Downton’s Dan Stevens as “David” a soldier returning from duty who stops to pass on a message to the family of his dead comrade. David claims to have instructions to look after the Petersons, but the still grieving family are letting themselves in for more than they bargained for by letting David into their home and lives.
The Guest is a mixed bag of genres with about 2/3 small town thriller and 1/3 slasher movie. The initial suspense surrounding David’s intentions trickles away quickly as bad things start happening to the films supporting characters. The lack of tension is made up for with heaps of visual style, although personally I am a bit sick of pink and blue as a color scheme, (Only God Forgives, Hummingbird, Drive) however Wingard  couples this with an impressive and innovative soundtrack which elevates proceeding to what can only be described as ‘modern Argento,’ where visuals and sound combine to create a surrealist, dream like atmosphere.
adam solidierThe most interesting thing about The Guest is that despite the sinister aspects of David’s presence in the home David actually brings something important to each individual family member. For the mother he fills the position in the family left by her dead son. This is of course also what initially unsettles daughter Anna and her father. Mr Peterson is quickly won around as he needs someone who can act as a soundboard for his inadequacies in the work place. David is happy to sit silently and drink beer with him. David teaches the Peterson’s son Luke who is bullied at school self defense (or maybe self preservation) Thinking that he has found a ‘friend’ Luke is perfectly happy to become a mini David. Anna is harder to convince. She is suspicious of David from the start. At a party David attempts to win her over by assimilating with her friends, partaking in recreational drug use, and when he drives her home he tells her that he likes her taste in music and wants her to make him a mix tape.
the guest halloween influences
It is clear that each family member is lonely and needs someone that they can confide in who will listen without judging. (This is a fascinating comment on a society where whole groups of people can have a conversation where everyone is talking about themselves but no one is listening, just waiting for the next cue to speak) We could perhaps presume that the dead older son used to fulfill that role (or perhaps not) either way the families lines of communication are broken and each individual is quick to put feelings of what might be called intuition to one side in exchange for what David offers them. When Anna is making her playlist we can see that she is starting to fall hard for David. But the next day she overhears him talking mysteriously on his phone and her suspicion is reignited. Things must come to a head.
anna and lukeI get the impression that David on some level does genuinely care about the family , and wants to make things better for them, but he is also driven to react in the way he does by forces beyond his control. David is an emotionless character (played brilliantly by Stevens) so it is hard to say whether things, like desire, are things he feels or things that others project onto him. This is illustrated by his sex scene . When he sleeps with Anna’s friend Kristen she suggests that he isn’t into it and then all of a sudden he becomes very ‘passionate.’
THE GUESTAnna is a very restrained person like David is. At one point we see her on a set of swings with her boyfriend. She is reluctant to show emotion about her dead brother and pulls away when her boyfriend tries to show her physical affection. Anna and David seem to share a connection deeper than with the rest of her family, even the girl he sleeps with means nothing to him. The emotional psyche of the characters is played out through the films soundtrack choices with a host of songs about whether or not people are sharing genuine emotions. Even at the end after some truly terrible things have happened it is as if Anna and Davis still share their connection.
The GuestThe Guest is disjointed and is intense rather than tense, but I enjoyed it in spite of or maybe because of these reasons. The film didn’t quite grab me around the throat in the way that Your Next did, but I am still thinking about the deeper meaning of the piece which is an important quality for a film to have. Wingard is good with actors and, in partnership with Barrett, he is very competent with bringing out the intimate family drama in a piece as well as some really great moments of black comedy. If there is anything that bothers me its that I would love to watch a film from Wingard solely based on the last sequence of The Guest because as a concept for a slasher film it was so tantalising. But I suppose it is best not to get pigeonholed.
guest david halloweenThe Guest is also filled with some great references to classic films as well as Wingard and Barrett’s earlier work. The Guest is set in the run up to Halloween, so for much of the time it looks like the set of a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) sequel, (preferably to six) there are a couple of references to Halloween 3, at one point we see some of the extras wearing the animal masks from Your Next, and there is a great cameo near the end from AJ Bowen. When Anna’s boyfriend gets arrested and her father wont listen to her it is reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, (Wes Craven, 1984) and the horror maze at the end is very the Man With the Golden Gun. Plus the android in Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) is also called David and the UK trailer for The Guest was definitely riffing on the Prometheus viral ads for David 8.
All in all The Guest is a very fascinating and enjoyable movie, I am glad it got a wide release, and I look forward to seeing what Wingard and his team come up with next.


The purge: anarchy

purge anarchy posterI admit that despite a solid performance from Ethan Hawke I was disappointed by the first Purge (2013, James DeMonaco) movie but I thought I might as well give The Purge: Anarchy a go anyway, and was pleasantly surprised. The original Purge was set within the confines of one house and shot in more of a ‘Paranormal‘ style, ‘Anarchy’ is set on the streets of Los Angeles and has far more places to go both plot and location wise.
Anarchy follows three sets of people who are brought together by unlucky circumstance on purge night, and must work together to survive. As working together for the good of the group is exactly the opposite of what society expects from them on purge night, this turns out to be a bit of a challenge.
The main couple; mother, daughter duo Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and Cali (Zoe Soul) hope to wait out the purge with their farther/grandfather in their small apartment in a poor area of town. Grandfather is sick and sneaks out leaving the girls alone and confused. A mysterious elite force surrounds the building and captures the girls to use in a high ranking officials private purge. (This guy is driven around in the back of a truck with a Rambo style machine gun) But luckily ‘Sergeant’ (Frank Grillo) arrives, taking pity on the girls he takes most of the armed men out saving the pair. Sergeant is a mysterious character who is armed to the hilt and looking to enact a specific plan of revenge on someone who has wronged him. Dressed in black he is almost like a vigilante Batman figure. Sergeant and the girls head for his car where they discover Liz (Kiele Sanchez) and Shane (Zach Gilford) sheltering. The soon to be divorced couple had been driving back home when their car broke down, and were then chased across the city by a masked gang. The now very angry machine gun guy, recovers from being shot and shoots at the car, the bullets damage the engine immobilizing the group. Seargant reluctantly has to adjust his plans to help the misfit group get across the city to Eva’s friends house in exchange for a car.
purge rich kill grandpaConsidering that the purge society exists in a alternate style future Anarchy has a lot of interesting themes that mirror issues facing contemporary American/Western society. In the film the riches ‘top 1%’ have the power to buy poor people to kill privately in the safety of their security protected homes. The concept of this film is clearly born out of the banking crisis, and subsequent recession.
the purge big daddyThe government tells the population that purging ‘cleanses’ the perpetrators in the eyes of God. Here Anarchy is mirroring the increasing lack of separation between state and religion in America. Those interested in purging talk about their ‘God given right’ to purge given to them by the ‘new founding fathers,’ this ideology is backed up by government broadcasts and national media. This can be seen as a reference to Americas pro gun lobbies who often site the 2nd amendment given by the founding fathers as a right. In Anarchy, as one could argue is the case in reality, state and religion become perversely blurred, the right to purge (bear arms) is more important than ‘thou shalt not kill,’ the new founding fathers are treated as Gods, and their chosen people are wealthy Americans.
Anarchy comments heavily throughout on the agenda of the gun lobbies, big business, and the government. Poor Americans are more likely to be affected by gun crime on purge night. The purge is used as a form of social cleansing rather than soul cleansing. Eva and Cali are both smart, strong African American women. Cali understands that the purge is really about big business; as long as purge night continues gun manufacturers, retailers and security firms will make money, and as we are all sadly aware in a capitalist society money equals power.
Film Review The Purge AnarchyCali is interested in the videos of an underground anarchist group who are anti purge and believe that the government literally uses the purge as an excuse for social cleansing. This idea seems fanciful until government gun men drag them from their home. The government send out mobile purge units (black trucks, filled with troops and government officials who are up for personal purging) to keep track of the purge night action, increase kill rates in poor neighborhoods, and capture poor targets for ‘personal purges.’  The anarchists, led by Carmelo (who are reminiscent of the Black Panther Party) fight back against the government forces. Anarchy also references the American civil rights movement here because Eva and Cali are hardworking, upstanding citizens, but the black (and Hispanic) community are heavily targeted during the purge.
purge the groupSpoiler alert. Unusually for the current horror scene The Purge: Anarchy has a positive anti-revenge message at the end, and an even more unusual happy ending. The post-post-modern era really has been the era of not just the unhappy ending but the cynical unhappy ending. It’s nice to have a change. But don’t forget it’s only a year until the next annual purge.

The quiet ones

q poster
Hammer’s new offering; The Quiet Ones is a 70’s set tale of science vs religion and the perils of sweeping ethics aside in favor of fast results. The film poses questions about what physical and psychological traumas society is willing to put people through in order to find a ‘cure.’
profOxford Professor Joseph Coupland believes telekinetic ability to be a manifestation of mental illness. Jane Harper is all alone in the world, orphaned at a young age she has been shunted from home to home, only for each successive family to decide that there is something inherently wrong with her, (a condition she describes loosely as being dead behind the eyes) until finally she is interned in a mental institution. Joseph believes he can cure her. He and his small team of students; the idealistic and sexually voracious Krissi and Harry, along with Phillip; the bashful camera man they hire to document proceedings, perform mentally stressful experiments on Jane. Experiments, like the use of loud music to encourage sleep deprivation, annoy the neighbors and put the Professor in hot water with the powers that be at the University, who are left unconvinced about the merits of some of the more unsavory aspects of the study. The teams funding is pulled, but Joseph pushes ahead with his ideas in an unofficial capacity, finding a remote country house to use as a base. The more they push Jane the more her pain and anguish can be channeled into her ‘telekinetic’ episodes. Joseph starts to believe that if Jane can purge the manifestation into a doll named Evie then she will be able to leave it behind and be free. But problems arise when they discover that Evie might have different ideas about where to go and what to do once manifest.seance
The Quiet Ones is a film with an interesting topic at its heart; the use of science to prove or disprove the paranormal. The age of enlightenment had culminated in Darwin proving his theory of evolution which in turn shattered the notion that God had created the earth in seven days. At the dawn of the 20th Century the scientific community believed itself to be winning the ideological war of reason over religious dogma and superstition, but then an actual War spread across Europe. blith spiritThe First World War brought death to the door of almost every family [1] this created a huge interest in the concept of life after death and whether or not it was possible to contact those who had died. The Seance and the idea of communing with the dead became a popular past time in the inter and post War years, an interest that is reflected in films such as Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) and Blithe Spirit (David Lean 1945) where the seance is represented as a fashionable way to spent an evening.
The scientific community quickly realized that Paranormal investigation was in many ways the final frontier, the discovery of scientific explanations for ‘ghostly phenomena’ would result in a final disapproval of the idea of an afterlife. The 1970’s, when The Quiet Ones is set, was a boom period for the popularization of the scientific investigation of the paranormal on both sides of the argument. The film itself is in fact loosely based on a true story of a scientific experiment in which a group of Canadian psychologists [2] ‘invented a ghost’ by putting together a fictional history for a character and then attempting to contact it. The purpose of the experiment was to try to prove that ghostly phenomena is a result of the energy of living humans focused on manifesting the presence that their minds are focused upon. The experiment was allegedly successful with the participants experiencing knocking sounds and witnessing tables moving but unfortunately they were unable to commit their most compelling evidence to film.
The Quiet Ones makes a nice change from recent Paranormal films like the Paranormal Activity series where characters are quick to unequivocally accept that what is happening to them is supernatural with little investigation of any alternative, (The films can be taken as postmodern in the sense that the only proof needed that something is real is the fact that it can be captured on a shaky camera) and is a nice throwback to films like Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) where discovery and investigation are an important part of the plot of the film.
Directed by John Pogue, The Quiet Ones is shot with a successfully unrelenting style focused on a use of unusually close framing of its subjects. The use of location and set design is very in keeping with the style of a Hammer picture. One the whole the characters are convincing, especially Jared Harris’s performance as the Professor who is both charismatic and convincing, but with a chillingly cutthroat edge. As is currently popular loud noise is used to create scares as much as atmosphere, but the use of documentary style footage is used more convincingly than in most instances.
janeAnother interesting theme of The Quiet Ones is the idea that sexual frustration is a powerful tool in manifesting Jane’s abilities. Krissi and Harry are a couple, (happy to have sex in earshot of Jane) but Krissi also enjoys secret liaisons with Joseph. Phillip, who in many ways is the protagonist of the film, (in so much as he is impartially voyeuristic and represents the allegiances of the audience) becomes infatuated with Jane and wants to protect her from Joseph. However he is also aware that becoming involved with someone who is so damaged would be unethical, and this dilemma leaves him impotent. At one point Jane has a dialogue with Phillip where she tells him, while she is topless in the bath, that men exist to tease women who they are unable to touch. Joseph also seems keen to slip in and out of Jane’s room although his purpose is unclear.
The problem with The Quiet Ones is that it ratchets the tension up and up but climaxes too soon leaving the plot no where to go, and the audience some what unsatisfied. The last third of the film is a bit of a jumble of ideas. There is an interesting back story with a mysterious first patient of Josephs, who appears in some of the most affecting images of the film, and who apparently grew up to reclaim his anonymity. I spent a lot of the film trying to guess who this might be, but in the end this turned out to be simply a red-herring. hallwayThere were two points on which the actual ending/s fell flat, firstly ideas about devil worship were tagged onto the beginning and the end, but were never clearly explained, devil worship is the kind of thing you have to go all out for throughout the plot. Lastly the final scene, the pessimistic ending which is currently de rigueur, feels frustratingly counter-intuitive. If the concept of the experiment was to manifest Evie the pay-off would have been for the audience to see the true face of the monster at the final moment.
Despite the above I still feel that The Quiet Ones is a relative success, and will no doubt also see box office success, it is clear that the film makers are trying to explore new themes and ideas as well as giving the audience a joyride which is half the battle these days. Hammer has managed to create a new audience and fan-base for its output and is proving itself to be as relevant today as it ever was, which is also nice to see.

[1] Source for this info is Leeds Wiki:

[2] Source is:

Carrie and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

The New Year was book-ended by two damp squibs in Carrie, which was actually released in November but was so agonisingly pointless that it has taken a month for me to bring myself to review it, and Paranormal: The Marked Ones to which the best praise I could give upon leaving the cinema was that it did not quite live up to the negative hype surrounding it. 2013 saw some notable gems released over the summer period including soon to be classics like You’re Next, and The Conjuring but as the autumn evenings grew darker Carrie blotted the horizon bringing with it the fear that the year would forever be marked as just another year of failed horror remakes.


carrie posterI went into this film looking for a new angle on Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic. It seemed like an adaption more faithful to Stephen King’s original novel was the way to go, and the initial teaser trailers seemed to hint that this might be the case. King’s book takes more of a news report and witness statement approach to the telling of Carrie’s story and a modern-day adaption certainly could have used the current penchant for minute by minute updates on news and current events via social media to maximum effect. When I heard that what was possibly the most anticipated horror of the year had been postponed I knew it was either a masterpiece or very bad. Sadly the later was the case. I thought that nothing could be more painful than going through puberty until watching this movie.
Chloe Moretz;Julianne MooreThe acting was appalling. Chloe Moretz can be a bit annoying in films but I know that she can act, here she spent the film in a constant state of moping, Carrie needs to express rage to a level beyond here own control for us to have any sympathy left for the character at the end after the prom tragedy. The Carrie we see in this film appears fully in control of her actions at the vital moment, so that by the time she gets back to her house to confront her mother she appears almost like a spoiled brat having a tantrum, when we should be looking at her as a victim of abuse failed by society. Julianne Moore is an amazing actress and tries valiantly to bring us a fresh perspective on Carrie White’s mother but her scenes are too limited to give us a good idea of her way of life. There is one interesting moment where we learn that Mrs White uses self harm to repress her feelings and emotions including the sexual urges she sees as evil. The actors playing Sue Snell and Tommy Ross are completely miscast, through the whole opening scene it was impossible to work out who was who, and they were a huge distraction throughout the whole film. Judy Greer is O.K. as Miss Desjardin, but does, not develop the emotional connection needed for us to feel the full tragic force of what should have been her death at the end. (She survives the school hall inferno in this adaption)
Knowing that Carrie was directed by a woman, Kimberly Peirce, a part of me was hoping for a feminist revisionist approach to the source material. Film theorists, and King himself, often sight the character of Carrie as actually representing the teenage male reader/viewer and it would have been intriguing to see a female perspective on this. However I realize that it is almost sexist to suggest that a female director ought to have a certain perspective  based on her gender. I can however worry about the lack of any clear theme…
Carrie promThe themes of the original movie were completely watered down for this adaption with all the hard-hitting content taken out. This could be due to the constraints of the PG13 and 15 ratings systems that studios desperately pander to at the expense of their adult audiences, although in this case I fear it may just be a lack of vision. There is no real nudity, no hint of Carrie enjoying her body in the shower scene, despite the modern special effect, most of the school escapes unscathed from the prom night tragedy, there are no domestic violence undertones in the relationship between Chris and Billy and, most significantly, almost all of the religious subtext of Brian De Palma’s original adaption has been removed. This latter removal has had the biggest effect on the lack of characterization of the main characters.    
carrie whiteAll in all Carrie is more like an extended and extremely dull episode of an American teen drama like The O.C. or as Murry put it when he turned to me during the ‘happy’ section of the prom scene Dawson’s Creek. I would not choose to watch it again. Anyone who has ever felt a pang of sadness at the injustices of Carrie White’s life should read Stephen King’s new book Dr Sleep for a different take on a little girl with very special powers.   

Paranormal Activity: The Marked ones

Paramormal 5 posterIt is easier to refer to this installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise as Paranormal 5. Paranormal 5 was swirled in hurricane of bad word of mouth following it’s release on the 1st of January. It arrived seemingly out of the blue to no fanfare from its distributor (I cannot recall seeing either a trailer or a poster before seeing it in the cinema listings) Paranormal 5‘s lack of promotion can’t of helped the way it has been received by audiences and after it’s opening weekend all I was hearing were tales of audience sat in silence, bored stiff (bored to death perhaps) I was pleasantly surprised to find it not nearly as bad as this, and at the least rather entertaining.
paranormal 5 jesseParanormal 5 is an offshoot of the franchise set in the Latino community in California. Two best friends Jesse and Hector, who conveniently love to film everything they do, discover that their neighbor living in the apartment below them is a witch using her powers and the powers of the Coven (as illustrated in Paranormal 3) to possess Jesse who had been chosen at birth. They come to this conclusion slowly over the first two-thirds of the film and the last third is spent re-visiting the Coven house from the end of Paranormal Activity 3.
This sequel does work on some levels. The friendship and lifestyle of the two leads is built up nicely and the acting is of a decent quality. For people who love film there is always something intriguing about films where the actors seem to be working through improvisation and the acting is of a decent quality. Altman it is not, but take out all of the ‘paranormal’ references and you would still be left with a charming little film about life in the American Latino community.
The only downside to this film, and maybe the reason why audiences haven’t warmed to it is that it is a strange combination of realism and implausibility which results in moments of comedy. For instance at one point Latino Gangsters with shot guns walk around blasting witches. Also as all the footage is shot handheld by one or other of the characters there comes a point in proceedings where everyone in the audience would have dropped the camera and legged it.
little girlsParanormal 5 also ties in with the lore of the previous four films. They revisit the set from 3, in one scene they arrange a meeting with a character from 2, and in the ‘twist’ ending they revisit the house from the original film. The ending in my opinion was the only really disappointing part of the film because it happened so fast that, although I got the general idea, I still don’t really know what actually happened. It also seemed way too similar to plot points from the Insidious films. On a lighter note it is nice that modern film franchise’s are sticking to an overarching idea now as I’m still waiting to find out what happened after Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and that was almost 19 years ago now, just think about that for a while. Paul Rudd is having a resurgence so maybe 2014 will be the year for a green-light on that imaginary project.                              

Doctor Sleep a book review

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
– The Windmills of your mind
Michel Legrand/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman
doctor sleepI was keen to read Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow up to The Shining, as the later is a tale in both book and film form that people just can’t forget as illustrated in the recent documentary Room 237 (Ascher, 2012). Of course in the world of Mr. King it is room 217, and his Shining is a very different story that it’s respective fans are equally fascinated by. I pre-ordered the book with the intention of reading Doctor Sleep in one sitting, and could quite easily have had the rest of my life not gotten in the way, so here I am a month later. It is however the type of book I would recommend ideally reading within a week maximum if circumstantially possible.
When the book arrived I spent my first few days of reading wondering around my work place trying to hype people up about it, and what I found was that despite King’s large looming position within the popular culture, when it comes to him novels readers are still very much love or hate with apparently no middle ground. After 50 novels this is surprising. Video-Gam told me he finds in hard to make it through the initial exposition of the stories King write (the reason, he tells me, why he is yet to make it half way through Pet Sematary) and I can understand where he is coming from. There are often a lot of subsidiary characters in King books and the plot will often go off at a seeming tangent exploring events in their lives. I can understand readers questioning the relevance of these segments. But I have also found (and now reading Doctor Sleep it has become particularly clear) that the idea with a Stephen King book is that at some point all of the stars will line up (the pink stars are falling… ha) Kings characters need to be in a certain place at a certain time to achieve certain events that will effect the final outcome or the novel.
Doc sleep in particular is about things come around back to the start, both life in the broad sense and live events for individuals. This is my excuse for my inclusion of the link to the video at the end of this post. First because it is a great example of song writing, (the version in the clip is performed here by the recently deceased Noel Harrison) matched to a great piece of film making but because the themes of the song line up nicely with the predominant themes of Doc Sleep; both are about the resonance people leave behind, the tiny imprints they leave on the environment around them, weather it be through objects, footprints, or spirits like those that wondered the halls of overlook, or most pernicious and long lasting; memories. After all they do say that a person dies twice; once when the physical body dies ad again when the last person ceases to remember you.
Danny Torrance grows up haunted, literally and metaphorically, by the ghosts of the Overlook, and by the huge responsibility of the ‘shining.’ He has inherited his father’s propensity for drink along with a few other family traits, and drifts from town to town regretting all the things he has/hasn’t done with his life until one day he reaches the town of Frazier and lands a job at Rivington house where he and Azreel the cat use their special talents to comfort dying elderly patients as they crossover. Then one day a very special little girl is born; Abra Stone shares Dan’s gift but her’s is much stronger, she is able to reach out to him with her mind and befriends him. Unfortunately a band of ‘steam’ sucking vampires known as the True Knot has also noticed Abra and her extraordinary talents. They need her shining to live and will stop at nothing till they get her dead or alive. Danny must put all of his ghosts to rest in order to save Abra and her family, which will be a big challenge considering that one of the True Knot’s camp-sites sits on the site of the old Overlook hotel.
The Shining was very much about letting memories of the past destroy you. Jack’s father was a drinker with a temper, Jack can see himself slipping down the same path but feels powerless to change what he sees as an inherited fate. he can’t forget what he did to Danny’s arm, and the family’s trip to the Overlook is his last ditch attempt to turn things around. Unfortunately the Overlook has a long memory of it’s own. Doc Sleep is much more about coming to terms with the ghosts of your past (even the really nasty ones) turning the tables and letting them help you to succeed.
How successful is Doctor Sleep? I hear you ask. As a story very successful. I have always said that one of the greatest joys you can have as a fan of a set of stories, weather it be books or films, is to be able to revisit really well written characters that are like old friends (This is why I love Scream 4 (Craven, 2011) when the follow up is done well. Doc has grown up to be extremely likeable and responsible despite his flaws, ans their was never a point in the novel where I felt disappointed with how things turned out. (and he goes through a hell of a lot)
Abra is a great character. I once read a Stephen King book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), a tale of survival where disturbing things wait for you in the woods, which I found rather distracting to read because the main protagonist is a young girl and I just could not believe in her voice as a realistic character. No such trouble here though, I have to say that Abra is the best female Stephen King character I’ve read (Although I’ve plenty more to read) What is also nice, having read a lot about Carrie (1974) being a representation of teenage boys, is the idea Doc Sleep gives us of what Carrie’s life might have been like if her mother had been half as understanding as the Stones’ (Abra is able to move objects with her mind and even causes a minor earthquake)
Is Doc Sleep a success in terms of scares? Well it is a Stephen King book so some moments are understandably terrifying, and King is great at making the weather and landscape chilling. However I personally did not find the True Knot especially worrying. Their leader Rose The Hat seems like a pretty cool chick who I would not want to mess with but the True are ultimately no match for what the Overlook had to offer. The pleasures of this book lie in catching up with Danny Torrance and on those terms I can highly recommend it. I wish happy reading to you all.

Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious-Chapter-2-PosterFor the purposes of this review let’s kick off with a re-cap of ‘chapter 1 (2010).’ The Lambert family are left mystified when son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes to sleep one night and falls into a coma, soon strange paranormal events start to occur and, at their wits end, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) call in Elise (Lin Shaye), a friend of Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), and her team of paranormal investigators. Elise promptly informs them that it’s not that the house that is haunted, the dead have locked onto the Lambert family, snatching Dalton away into the realm beyond (referred to as the The Further) in an attempt to enter the boys body and regain their own ‘life.’ The only hope for the family is for Josh to travel into The Further to rescue his son. Unfortunately The Further is filled with dangerous spirits including the particularly nasty one with his heart set on the Lambert family. Josh manages to save Dalton and bring him back, Dalton wakes from his coma, and everything is seemingly returned to normal. Unfortunately for Elise it transpires that Josh has been taken over by one of the evil spirits in The Further. He strangles her.
Elise is deadChapter 2 starts straight after the events of the first film with Renai’s discovery of Elise’s body. Renai is suspicious of her husbands actions but Josh insists that a demon must of been responsible for Elise’s death and that everything is fine now. Josh moves his family into his mothers house while the police treat the family home as a crime scene, but returning to the old homestead reawakens issues surrounding Josh’s ghostly experiences in the house during his own childhood. Both Renai and Lorraine see a mysterious and chilling female figure wandering the house. Josh however insists that this is all in their imagination and that the family needs to move on from the haunting. To avoid what my be construed as a spoiler please move to the next paragraph. Josh is happy to ignore the strange woman as it is made relatively clear from early on in proceedings that this is not the real Josh, the real Josh is trapped somewhere in The Further. The later half of the film consists of the ghost hunters attempts to find out who is in possession of Josh’s body and who the mysterious woman haunting the house is.
hauntingInsidious: Chapter 2 is the kind of camped up ghost-house movie that William Castle would have been proud of. Director James Wan, writer Leigh Whannell and the returning cast have their tongues firmly planted in their bloody cheeks, and yet still manage to terrify. Most of the scares come from loud bang approach where, in rooms with many different doors, the camera moves silently one way, the protagonist goes another, the thing we think we see goes yet another way and then something busts out from a dark corner accompanied by a horrific burst of music. Chapter 2 is also filmed in an unusually sharp picture quality, which at some points during proceedings made it feel as if we had taken a trip to an experience like the London Dungeons where you run around in the dark with actors jumping out at you. Some may not think of this type of horror as sophisticated, a criticism that was levelled at the first Insidious as well as The Conjuring, but it is effective. It is also something that is hard to do consistently, which is why it is easy to say that Wan is particularly skilled in leading and misdirecting the audience. Insidious like it’s predecessor definitely takes endurance. This is the kind of film where there is no time to relax because something could jump put of the screen at you at any given moment and I could feel my heart pounding throughout.
patrick wilson and ty simpkinsChapter 2 uses an interesting story device to tie in the plot of the first and second films without the need for a large amount of flashback and exposition as it turns out that things that happen in the ‘present’ in The Further are able to physically effect things that happened in the past (in what Murry has started calling the Back to the Future Part 2 (Zemeckis, 1989) approach) This was quite clever and suits me fine as I am not a fan of using large sections of previous films to start off horror sequels, as it happens to often. However those who plan to see Chapter 2 without having seen the first Insidious may find it helpful to just bite the bullet and see the first one before hand. I think the studio is aware of this and that is why they kicked off the run with double bill showings on the Thursday. I had to turn to Murry at one point and explain to him a number of things that had happened in the first film for it to make sense to him as the plots of both are quite intricately woven.
3S7C3019.CR2This is another ensemble horror, with everyone getting scared all over the place. Patrick Wilson stood out in particular in his role, it is clear that he enjoys working with Wan as this is his third time out. Steve Coulter is also very good as Carl, a friend of Elise who is able to use a set off special dice with letters on to contact the dead. I must say that the first half of Chapter 2 is pure terror, but that after the derelict hospital scenes in the middle the atmosphere becomes more ‘Scooby gang’ than truly scary, this is mostly due to the light humour provided by ghost hunting duo Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) who give us space to breathe in an otherwise relentless picture. The two play the same role in the first film, and I am glad to see them back, but the humour seemed slightly off the mark this time around, which might be down to their parts being somewhat squeezed in and rushed on this occasion.
red doorThe final explanation for who was attacking the family and why also felt a bit disjointed. Everything was careful put in place and matched up with the first movie but something did not feel quite right. I had my own opinion (as ever) about where the plot was going but it turned out I was completely wrong, something even Murry was surprised about. Barbara Hershey is just so creepy that I was second guessing her motives all the time and expecting an outcome more similar to Paranormal Activity 3 (Joost, Schulman, 2011). But no matter.
creepy motherInsidious Chapter 2 is, needless to say, hugely influenced by Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) and probably could not exist with out it. From The Further to the ghost hunting the Insidious films are very much like Poltergeist but with Spielberg’s propensity for childhood innocence taken away. The first Insidious is one of my favourite horror films of recent times, but I have not seen it since its release and there is a reason. Those horrible red titles put the kind of fear in me that only something like The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973) can compare to. I would find it far easier to watch Chapter 2 again because it is more of a crowd pleasing haunted fun house kind of a movie. I am sure that audiences with respond to it more, but the first is probably a slightly better film. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a flawed movie, that said it was also a highly enjoyable experience, and that is what the majority of people will be paying for. Because I’m such a big fan of Whannell/Wan (The two W’s) I am not two fussed about the issues with the movie and the criticism it will no doubt receive (Suddenly in retrospect all those critics are referring to the first film as a classic, that’s not what they said at the time) instead I am happy to sit back and watch Chapter 2 rule the box office in the hopes that it allows the duo of to keep making more awesome films.