Posts Tagged ‘possession’

My favorite films surrounding my remote control.

You know, this may not be the biggest issue in my life. And it may not be the meaningful thing I could write about on this blog. But you know, it’s something I find myself pondering from time to time. What do my Top 6 Favorite Horror Movies say about me and my interests?

(It used to be 7, but I realized while making my list that while I enjoyed the film, it wasn’t something I would gladly watch again and again and again, just say the word go. Also, my tastes change over time, so this list could look very different in ten or even five years, as well as grow or shrink.)

But what does it say about me that I enjoy these particular films? What about them draws me to them? I tried to figure it out by listing them and then listing what I liked about them. Here are the films in question:

Perfect Blue (1997)
Based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satoshi Kon, Mima Kirigoe is a J-Pop idol who is forced by her agency to transition into acting. This and a violent stalker sends Mima into a violent psychological down-spiral, one which may very well claim her life.

  • One of the few good examples of anime horror I’ve come across in my life. The art style is also excellent, where characters and scenes are animated with a sense of realism rather than the usual anime exaggerations. This gives the horror a certain sense of realism that you wouldn’t normally find in anime.
  • The movie works to make you question, along with Mima, every moment of reality. What is real, what isn’t, what’s a dream, what’s part of Mima’s TV drama and what’s her actual life. It’s all up for debate throughout the movie, with the use of color, quiet scenes vs acting and dancing scenes, and repetition of events making you feel the disorientation Mima feels. All leading up to a final third with a horrific twist.

Color Out of Space (2020)
Starring Nicholas Cage and based on the novella by HP Lovecraft (one of my favorites by him, BTW), a meteor falls in a small West Virginia farm, giving off an odd color that can’t really be categorized. Soon after, strange events start happening on the farm, changing the plant life, the family, and reality itself. All leading to a devastating conclusion.

  • Ask most film critics, it’s one of the best HP Lovecraft/Lovecraftian horror adaptations ever made.
  • The film’s very misleading, at first playing up Cage’s penchant for odd acting and adding in plenty of comedy. Later on, however, Cage’s performance goes from funny to sinister, and the humor vanishes as the number of scary events occur and build, filling with you with dread.
  • The mix of practical effects and CGI is well done, with the latter only being employed as absolutely needed and the former being used enough to make fans of The Thing proud. This allows for the final scenes to be really horrifying, even when chock-full of CGI.
  • Just watch the cutting board and alpacas in the barn scenes. You’ll be scarred for life.

Overlord (2018)
During the D-Day invasion, a small troop of American soldiers sneak into a French town to take out the Nazi’s radio tower, preventing the Nazis from calling for help. What follows is a harrowing ride through hell as the team confronts not just Nazis and the horrors of war, but deadly experiments that may end up changing the tide of the war.

  • Despite being a “Nazi zombie” film, which is usually silly or played for laughs, this film plays it much more seriously. The zombies are almost a secondary feature of the film. The real emphasis is on how war scars and changes you, how horrible the drive to win can make a person, and how war brings out the depravity in all of us. When the zombies are on screen, they’re used sparingly, only to heighten the horror and the stakes.
  • During the scenes where the protagonist explores the laboratory, the emphasis on mood and atmosphere creates a powerful dread of what’s around every corner, under every sheet. If you’ve ever seen or played the game Outlast, it often feels like you’re in the middle of that game, and that is a terrifying thought to have.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
As a young girl, Angela sees her father and brother killed in an accident on a lake adjacent to Camp Arawak. Years later as a teen, Angela and her cousin Ricky go as campers, only for a strange series of deaths to ruin the summer fun. And in the center of it all, Angela seems to be a fixture.

Who else had their mind blown by this moment in the film?
  • This is a rather unique 80’s slasher. For one thing, the campers are all played by actual teens and tweens, rather than adults pretending to be teens. Coupled with the teens language and behavior, it often reminds me of my own camping days, except less Jewish and more murder-y.
  • There are also prolonged periods between (admittedly inventive) kills, which allows you to really get to know the characters and remind you that these are just kids. This makes each instance of death even more shocking and brutal than it would be if they were in your face one after the other.
  • The twist in this movie is rather famous and forces the viewer to recontextualize everything in a new light. I won’t say what happens, but ooh boy, it’s not the sort of thing you could do today. I’d be interested to see how a remake handles this twist and reworks it for a modern audience. Also, I wish there was a novelization for this movie, because it would be great.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
A medical student is filming a documentary about an older woman’s battle with dementia. While out at her country home, however, it becomes increasingly clear that this woman is dealing with something else besides dementia: a dark presence has come for Deborah Logan, and it’ll use her to accomplish its sinister goals.

  • Both a found footage and a possession movie, the take on the latter is very unique, both in the victim of possession and who/what is doing the possessing. However, since this is a film about a woman with dementia, it misleads you at first so that you don’t know if what you’re experiencing is really supernatural at first. And when it becomes clear that something supernatural is happening, it becomes both terrifying and tragic.
  • Did I mention this film is terrifying? Not just for anyone whose relatives have experienced dementia (and I’ve heard from people that that’s a form of terror in and of itself), but just as a horror movie it is terrifying. From dark and claustrophobic scenes in an abandoned mine to strange happenings in the house and one bloody scene that freaked me the hell out, this is not a film you want to watch with the lights out.

Prince of Darkness (1987)
A Catholic priest discovers an ancient artifact in the basement of an abandoned church that points to the fulfillment of an obscure end-of-world prophecy. Needing to prove it to the world, the priest enlists the help of several prominent professors from a local university and their grad/PhD students to help quantify this strange, evil miracle. As you can guess, shit really hits the fan.

  • One of John Carpenter’s lesser known masterpieces (which I think is a damn shame), the film has a unique take on God and Satan that feels more at home in a UFO cult, but works really well here. It also has some interesting ideas and themes to explore, such as the nature of evil, the relationship between religion and science, and even an allegory for the AIDS epidemic, which was at a peak when this film was made.
  • Also, while not the scariest thing ever, it is pretty damn creepy and has some truly great moments of horror.

So, there you go. These are my favorite horror films right now. And I struggle to find a unifying theme about why I elevate them above all others. Half of them are from the last decade, two from the 1980s, and one from the 1990s. They all place a lot of emphasis on psychological horror, but how and how much varies from film to film. Only two of them are adaptations of anything. No similar genres, directors or writers, different themes are explored in each one, and I own copies of all of them on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Maybe it’s just that they stick in my head more than others, or that they impressed me in some way that other horror films haven’t. Perhaps they’re the kind of stories I wish I’d wrote, or I like thinking of what I’d do with the material. Wait, no, it’s not that. I think that with every horror film.

If nothing else, I’ll be able to discuss films like Perfect Blue and Prince of Darkness with more people.

Well, maybe you’ll help me find some insight. If nothing else, there’s a chance you’ll be curious enough to see these films if you haven’t watched them before, or give them another watch if you have. You may even notice something I don’t.

You may even make some of them part of your Halloween watchlist this year (63 days till Halloween at the time of this writing). And if you do, I also recommend adding Carnival of Souls (1962), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), As Above, So Below (2014), The Void (2017), both versions of The Fly (1958 and 1986), the 2013 remake of Carrie, It (2017), and Freaky (2020). All make great additions to your Halloween viewing lineup. Not to mention all the movies coming out starting next month. I’m getting chills just thinking about it!

Anyway, this has been a long post and it’s getting late. I’m going to end it here and call it a night. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

What are your thoughts on these films? Did you notice anything I didn’t? What are your favorite horror films that you recommend to everyone?

So CBS is known more for raunchy family-based comedies and police procedurals with plenty of light and color. Outside of Supergirl, which got moved to CW, it’s not well known for speculative fiction type shows, at least not these days. And no, Star Trek: Discovery and The Twilight Zone reboot don’t count, that’s CBS All Access, which is another bill if you want to watch those shows. Anyway, Evil is outside of CBS’s normal wheelhouse, but it’s the kind of thing I love, so obviously I’d check it out. Of course, it’s on after I go to bed, so I check it out and review it the next day. Such is life, isn’t it?

Evil follows Dr. Kristen Brouchard, a forensic psychologist who gets hired on by David Acosta to help him in his assessment business. Basically, he works for the Catholic Church to discover if purported instances of the supernatural, such as miracles or demonic possession, are real. He’s a believer, she isn’t. But either way, they’re going to be walking a very fine line. Not just between the worlds of the physical and the supernatural, if that exists, but between that of good and evil.

So I’ll start off that the setup of this show is intriguing. It takes its time to play with our expectations. Are we dealing with actual demonic forces? Or is the evil in the title that of human evil? I feel that this is going to be an ongoing question throughout the first season, and if it’s done as cleverly as it was in the first episode, then I could see the first season having some decent ratings. At the very least though, there’s something everyone who’s watching the show, and perhaps who’s in the show, can agree on: that evil, whatever the source in human beings, is connected and talking to each other. And it may take a lot to stop others from encouraging evil acts in each other.

The cast is also pretty decent. Mike Colter, fresh off of Luke Cage (RIP, Marvel Netflix), plays David Acosta as this enigmatic kind of guy, wrapped up in twenty mysteries we’ve yet to pierce. He’s totally fine with his coworkers not believing in the same stuff he does, though I wonder if that will change in later episodes. At the very least, this character is holding more cards than we’ve seen. As for Dr. Kristen Brouchard, you get the sense that she’s trying her best. She’s fighting an uphill battle to make her life work, raising four daughters while her husband works abroad and dealing with loan sharks. Her one rock is her belief in science, which are going to be shaken a lot in this show.

Oh, and Aasif Mandvi is in this show as Acosta’s equipment/technical guy. I love that guy. He was always one of my favorite correspondents on The Daily Show when I watched that, so it’s cool to see him pop up here. Just thought I’d mention that.

If I have one gripe about this series, for those looking for a more Exorcism of Emily Rose-type story, where eventually the supernatural is confirmed, this show may you leave you disappointed. That being said, they’re going to play with the supernatural-or-not question for a little while longer. Though obviously, they’ll have to come to a conclusion by the end of the first season. And what that conclusion is will determine who continues watching this show.

So yeah, this show could go a couple different ways in terms of story and how long it lasts. But I’m at least willing to give it a go.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the first episode of 4. Great setup and dramatic storytelling. I’ll be interested to see how it goes.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

I heard about this film a few months ago, and thought the trailer looked promising. Even when the reviews came in and said the film was terrible (one review I saw called it a “soulless possession flick”), I was still interested. So today I got in the car and went to see it, thinking it would either be as terrible as advertised, or I might like it more than others had.

Well, you can’t live on caviar alone, can you?

The Possession of Hannah Grace follows Megan, a former cop and recovering addict who gets a job on the night shift at a hospital morgue. On her second night, a body gets dropped off with extensive damage, the result of a botched exorcism, and immediately weird things start happening around Megan. Machines won’t work, someone breaks into the morgue, and the body seems to change in very odd ways. Soon Megan realizes the corpse, the human formerly known as Hannah Grace, may be more than just a dead body. It may be the vessel for something much worse.

This film was rife with problems. I mean, it had a great set, and the actors put their all into their roles. Shay Mitchell as Megan does a great job as vulnerable, and it was a nice surprise seeing Stana Katic from Castle as Megan’s friend/AA sponsor (I miss that show sometimes). And there are a couple of good jump scares here and there, plus some pretty brutal death scenes. There’s a good horror film trying to break out of here.

The problem is, it’s just not scary. It starts off showing Hannah Grace’s failed exorcism and how she dies, and that takes out much of the mystery and suspense of the film. I feel if the film had been given a different name and the knowledge that Hannah’s botched exorcism until two-thirds through the film as a twist reveal, it would’ve been more effective. As it is though, we know too much, and see where it’s going much too soon. That wouldn’t be a problem (that’s usually how films in the Conjuring series or some of Blumhouse’s films operate, and those are often very good), but the lack of atmosphere and the poor attempts at jump scares don’t do the film any favors.

Also, the ending gave me so many questions. Not the good kind of questions, like the ones that make you return to the film to look for Easter eggs or hidden meanings. The kind that make you scratch your head and wonder what the filmmakers were thinking when they made these decisions. I won’t say what they were in case you don’t want to be spoiled, but let’s just say they left me a little disappointed, and I’d be more than happy to vent in the comments.

And oh my God, you can hear every breath Megan makes! And while that’s normal for characters in a scary movie to breathe hard, here it’s just distracting for some reason.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Possession of Hannah Grace a 1.5. It’s a crappy possession film that’s trying to market itself as a B-grade popcorn muncher but not doing any of the work to get that distinction.

On the bright side, based on the ticket sales for this film, we won’t have to worry about a sequel or prequel. That’s something to be thankful for.

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

Last Monday, I announced that my novel, Rose, is getting published by Castrum Press. And amidst all the excitement and a little extra alcohol (because of course I’ve been celebrating), there has been a lot of correspondence between me and the publisher (and how cool is it that I can say that now?). Some of what we’ve talked about is how the publishing process works, what each of us can do in terms of marketing, etc. But one of the big things we’ve talked about in the past week is the fifth draft. And trust me, there’s going to be a fifth draft. Because as nice as the fourth draft was, it’s still got a few problems here and there that can be cleaned up.

I’ll be honest with you guys: as excited as I am about all this, I’m a little terrified. Okay, maybe a lot terrified. Before last Monday, this dream of being an author with a publisher was just that: a dream. And as much as we want our dreams to be accomplished, when they’re still dreams, there’s only so much damage that can be done to them. But once they’re brought into reality, like when a publisher wants to release your book, then there’s all sorts of damage that can be inflicted: negative reviews and/or poor sales, the process to publication can be beset with difficulties, etc. (I don’t think that those things will happen, but my overactive mind tends to consider every horrible possibility out there).

On Friday, my publisher and I agreed to catch up again in mid-May to see how my edits are going. After that, we’ll see where we go for there. And I’m scared that when they see what I’ve done there, they’ll feel I haven’t lived up to their expectations and rescind the publication deal. Again, I’m pretty sure this is more my fear than an actual possibility, but like I said, I have to consider all possibilities. And that one has gotten kind of big in my head.

Of course, me being me, I take what’s scaring me and turn it into a fuel for my confidence, motivation to produce good work, and a means to scare others (I believe psychologists call this sublimation). I even gave myself a pep talk a few minutes ago in front of the mirror, using a scary voice to convince myself how powerful I am and that I can accomplish what I set my mind too. And it worked very well. Weird what I can do when I tell myself that I am the Devil, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Death all rolled into one, and that I can be my generation’s Stephen King while sounding like I’m possessed. Yes, I do that. Don’t judge me.

So I’ll get started on a fifth draft of Rose very soon, finishing up a couple of tasks before I do so. I’ll also be leaving for the library in a little bit to print out some of the editors’ notes. Hopefully I can take enough from those notes to better the manuscript before the deadline in mid-May. Fingers crossed.

As always, I’ll keep you guys informed of any developments that occur. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares! (I know it’s not even two in the afternoon yet. But that’s never stopped some people from having nightmares during the day.)

Recently I read an article about eleven recent novels¬†that Stephen King apparently found scary. Being the fan of His Royal Scariness that I am, I checked out the article and found this book at the top of the list. The premise sounded interesting, so the next time I had a credit for an Audible audio book, I got A Head Full of Ghosts¬†by Paul Tremblay,¬†which is about a young woman who tells us her memories of when her elder sister started¬†showing symptoms of schizophrenia, but when¬†treatment after treatment seems to fail, the family comes to the conclusion that the sister is possessed, and somehow a reality show documenting the family’s attempts to exorcise their daughter evolves.

Like I said, it sounded interesting, and it was, though I wouldn’t call it scary. I mean, there are a few moments that can be terrifying, but even imagining them as a horror movie in my head, I didn’t really feel that it was as scary as King hyped it up to be.

Still, A Head Full of Ghosts is definitely not a dull read. In fact, it’s quite entertaining. The main character and narrator, Meredith “Merry” Barrett, is one of the most enjoyable¬†types of narrators, the unreliable kind¬†(see my post on unreliable narrators). Eight years old at the time of the events of the novel, she tells them anew to a writer for a new book in the year 2030 (which apparently still values paperbacks and blogs. I find that reassuring). As she tells us early in the novel, she misremembers a lot of what happened, due to the passage of time and of course what everyone has told her has happened.

To a certain extent, most of the¬†characters in this novel is unreliable to a degree. We can’t tell what’s up with the older sister: is she possessed, is she schizophrenic, is she something we don’t have a word for? The things she says and does, you get a lot of conflicting signals. I have my guesses, but you really don’t know at all, right up to the end. The father is struggling because of unemployment (I sympathize) and has recently rediscovered God¬†and begins to see everything through a religious lens with disastrous results. The mother seems to be perpetually grumpy and wavering between trying to be in control and trying to be responsible as her life unravels. The priest from the Catholic Church seems¬†priestly, but underneath that you get a sense that he’s milking this situation for his own reasons. It’s amazing how little you can actually trust these characters.

My favorite parts of the novel involve segues into a blog by a horror fan (a woman after my own heart) where she gives us an idea of what watching the reality show was like, as well some good ol’ scholarly examination of some of the show’s deeper meanings. And all with a snarky voice too. These segments are hilarious and fun, but they also help us as readers put the story and characters into context and prepare us for future events in the novel.

Another part I enjoyed about the novel is just seeing Merry¬†and her family experience her sister’s illness/possession/whatever and then the craziness that is being the subject of a reality show, how fame has its downsides, how the show and the ordeal brings out the worst in her family, how her relationship with her sister becomes strained by all these events. It’s a very engrossing evolution.

One problem I do have with this novel (besides the fact that I never really found it scary) is that we never really see Merry¬†outside of the context of her family or the show. Not even when we see her as an adult, because it’s fairly obvious that her family and the show has affected the adult she’s become. I would’ve liked to see Mary outside of the context of the family or the show, maybe in the company of friends or her soccer program. Those aspects of her life are mentioned, but they’re not really delved into, and I think she would’ve been a fuller character if we saw that her family and what’s going on around it isn’t entirely what defines her.

Oh, that and I didn’t particularly care for the audio book’s narrator. I mean she was good, especially when she was voicing¬†the older sister, but when she does male voices, especially the father character’s voice, it sounds like every daughter’s impression of her embarrassing father or teacher. Just not convincing at all, more comical than anything.

All in all, I give A Head Full of Ghosts a 3.9 out of 5. It’s not as scary as I’d hoped it would be (or maybe I just listened to it wrong), but it’s psychological, it’s entertaining, and you want to see it through to the end. If you’re looking for a book that’s like The Exorcist with a modern twist, this might not be for you. But if you want to read something with dark subjects but you’d like¬†to sleep at night, I think you’ll find this book fits the bill.