Ghosts

Shock (1977)

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Shock was initially released as Schock and later as Beyond the Door II and was director Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood)’s last film. The film follows Dora, played by Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red, Opera), who has just moved back into her old house following a mental breakdown and the mysterious death of her first husband. Together with Dora are her new husband Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebre), who is away a lot due to his job, and young son Marco (David Colin, Jr., Beyond the Door).

Upon moving in strange things start to happen to both Dora and Marco as they are visited by the ghost of Carlo (a.k.a. the dead husband/father). It is quite early on in the film that Marco becomes possessed by Carlo and starts to terrorise his mother in very adult ways. Along with Marco’s strange behaviour Dora starts to hallucinate and regain some memories about Carlo and the night he died and her part in it. Before being too harsh on Dora, it must be pointed out that Carlo was far from the model husband, rather he was an abusive drug addict.

The soundtrack to Schock is impressive and utilises several different techniques to build suspense including the ubiquitous violins but also syncopated off-kilter drumbeats. Although the plot of Schock is pretty simple it is extremely well done. There is an attempt at the old ‘is she going insane or is it supernatural’ troupe however I think it is clear from the scenes with Marco that it is of the supernatural persuasion.  It is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between Schock and The Exorcist – both being films made in the 1970s about child possession, however they are very different. What sets Schock apart from a lot of possession films is that it is a ‘human’ (albeit dead) that is possessing rather than an all-powerful demon or the devil.

Although Bava is well known for his Giallo genre films (hence the tag), I don’t know if I would consider Schock to be an example of that genre, if nothing else the title and plot are not convoluted enough to be classic Giallo. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it, particularly if you don’t have much brain power to spend!

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: The alternative title of Beyond the Door II was chosen to link to a previous film by Ovidio G. Assonitis with the spurious link that David Colin Jr. plays a possessed child in both films.

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Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

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I have been meaning to watch Grave Encounters 2 for a while after enjoying the first film. The second film leads on directly from the first, so in order to understand it you really need to have watched the first film. Grave Encounters (2011) follows a film crew for a TV programme headed by Lance Preston who lock themselves inside a haunted asylum. Things go from bad to worse and the whole crew disappear.

Grave Encounters 2 follows Alex, played by Richard Harmon (Continuum) one of the 20million fans who have viewed the first film on YouTube and a film student. After starting a project based on Grave Encounters, queue lots of poor “student” acting, Alex becomes obsessed with proving that the first film is true. The first part of the film is setting the scene and I feel goes on too long with several unnecessary scenes including Alex meeting Lance’s mother which adds nothing to the story.

Finally the film crew get to the asylum after a tip-off from the anonymous blogger DeathAwaits666 who agrees to meet them there and prove that Grave Encounters is true. Upon breaking into the asylum, Alex and his friends are stood up by the blogger but decide to try to contact the spirits using a handy Ouija board (why would anyone ever thing this would be a good idea?) and surprise, surprise,  DeathAwaits666 is actually a demonic entity in the asylum. Now things start to heat up and all hell breaks loose with several evil spirits including a creepy little girl and a long limbed humanoid figure. The actual asylum is up to its old business in the first film with moving walls separating and trapping the group.

Unexpectedly the group run into Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) who has been trapped in the asylum for nine years which has understandably sent him insane. This is where the film gets weird and becomes a film in its own right rather than an imitation of the first film. In his incarceration Lance has discovered a giant red free-standing door, not the most subtle of things which he believes to be the only way out. To get around the fact that we are running out of characters to hold the camera, the asylum now takes it on itself with floating camcorders.

Whilst it is nice to see some progression from the first film, The Vicious Brothers, aka Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, I think it goes off the wall a bit and definitely primes the way for another sequel which is one of my least favourite trends in modern horror films. Grave Encounters 2 is an average film and better than many sequels but isn’t as good as the original.

Rating: 4/5

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The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)

The Haunting in Connecticut 2

The Haunting in Connecticut 2 (THIC2) is based on the real life story of the Wyrick family and their horrific experience with spirits of previous inhabitants of their new farmhouse. The film centres around the daughter, Heidi, played by Emily Alyn Lind (Enter the Void) who begins seeing Mr Gordy (Grant James, Tombstone), a friendly, if silent, older well-dressed man. Heidi’s parents, Lisa and Andy played by Abigail Spencer (Cowboys & Aliens) and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) respectively, initially think the Mr. Gordy is an imaginary friend. However, with the help of Lisa’s free-spirited sister, Joyce (Katee Sackhoff, Halloween: Resurrection), it soon becomes clear that he is he spirit of the previous owner in the 1970s. Soon though, Heidi is visited by less benevolent spirits and things come to a head when she discovers a secret cellar. Heidi’s psychic ability was inherited from her mother’s side and through the film we see Lisa’s attempt to cope with her spiritual visions through the use of prescription drugs and Joyce’s more opposing philosophical approach to them.

Through a visit from the local pastor and information from Mr. Gordy, we learn that the house and land that the Wyrick’s purchased used to be used as the base of the underground railway used for escaping slaves. The pastor sings the praises of Mr. Gordy’s stationmaster ancestor it is through Heidi and Mr. Gordy we learn a more sinister tale of his taxidermy hobby and how the neighbouring landowners killed him, stuffing him with sawdust (a la stuffing a taxidermy) and hung him from a tree on the land.

THIC2 produces some good jumps but never really scares, the set pieces should be impressive (including the woman hanging from threads on the movie poster) but are lack lustre and seem unconnected to the story. The story seems confused, trying to cram in as many ‘classic’ scary moments including an exorcism (although in the film it is a ‘blessing’, it has all the marks of an exorcism) and the discovery of several skeletons. After reading about the real-life Wyrick family, it also seems to deviate greatly from the reported events so the film doesn’t even have realism going for it.

The worst thing about THIC2 is the lack of connection and cohesion with the first film, indeed the film is not even set in Connecticut! THIC2 claims to be a ‘brother film’ of the original but in my opinion it is so far removed, completely different characters, actors and director that it is just a weak unoriginal film cashing in on the moderate success of The Haunting in Connecticut. I wouldn’t really recommend THIC2 to anyone, it does not deliver the promised scares but it not bad enough to be good.

Rating: 2/5

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Fun (or not so fun) Fact: A second sequel (The Haunting in Connecticut 3 maybe?) has been announced and set in New York (also not Connecticut).

Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

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Both films follow the unfortunate Lambert family who have inherited the ability to project themselves into an astral plane. On this plane, however, we find that they are not alone and instead it is inhabited by spirits of the dead and other more deadly beings all of whom are looking for a way back into this material world. In the first film it is the son, Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3) who is the centre of the problem becoming the object of desire of a Darth Maul-esque demon and falls into a coma that cannot be explained medically. Is parents, Renai and Josh played by Rose Bryne (28 Weeks Later, X-Men: First Class) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, Hard Candy) respectively learn from Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, Black Swan, Hannah and her Sisters) that this isn’t the first time this has happened. Indeed, it happened to Josh as a child which is why there are no photos of him in his youth around.

In both films there are ‘professional’ mediums, Elise (Lin Shaye, There’s something about Mary), Specs (Leigh Whannell, Saw) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, Summer Coda), the latter two providing some comic relief. In the second film after Elise’s death, Specs and Tucker are joined by Carl (Steve Coulter, The Conjuring), Elise’s previous assistant who contacts her through the use of sever dice.

The second film focuses around the father, Josh who after rediscovering his ability brought something back at the end of the first film. It opens in the 1980s with Elise removing Josh’s ability before moving into the present day and Renai being questioned about Elise’s death which occurred at the end of the first film. These flashbacks are a common feature throughout the film in which we learn about the spirit that has been following Josh since he was a boy and is now inhabited him.

The idea of astral projection adds a different facet to the usual possession storyline and I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, there was the right amount of jumps and mystery with the soundtrack serving to enhance the mood without over-powering it as can easily happen in such a film. The second film however, whilst still providing its fair share of jumps and scares, is far more confused trying to weave together a new story about the spirit possessing Josh whilst fleshing out the background hinted at in the first film. This leads to a confused and lack lustre film. In the second film the ghosts make-up seem more naïve, lots of white painted faces and even resorting to people in sheets, which considering the much increased budget from the first one, $5 million compared to $1.5 million for the first, you would have thought would be more impressive. The storyline itself in the second one reverts to clichés, killers with mother issues, which really lets the unusual idea of astral projection from the first film down.

As with many similar films, for example The Conjuring also by director James Wan or the Saw franchise (which Wan directed part III and the upcoming part VII and writer Leigh Whannell wrote parts I, II, III and VIII) Insidious seems destined to be done into the ground with each film becoming increasingly confused and unoriginal, indeed Insidious: Chapter 3 is already in production, I just hope it doesn’t go the same way as the Paranormal Activity or aforementioned Saw franchise and become a parody of itself.

Rating: Insidious 4/5 blood4aInsidious: Chapter 2 2/5blood2a

Shikoku (1999)

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Shikoku means ‘four providences’ or ‘four countries’ in Japanese and is where the film is set. Additionally, when the kanji (Japanese character) used is altered, it also means ‘the land of the dead’ and it is this idea that the film focusses on. The film starts with a ceremony similar to a séance in which a young girl is possessed and channels the spirit of a dead boy, indicating what is to occur later in the film. The film then goes on to show a close friendship group between the girl from the previous scene, who we find out is named Sayori and two other children, a girl named Hinako and a boy named Fumiya. But the friendship group is not to last as Hinako and her family move to Tokyo.

The film then moves forward to present day (well 1999) and follows Hinako (Yui Natsukawa) returning to the small rural town in Shikoku where she discovers her childhood friend Sayori had drowned sixteen years ago. Upon bumping into Fumiya (Michitaka Tsutsui), she learns that her friendship with the deceased was not as rosy as she originally thought with much resentment and jealously on the other girls’ part.

The film takes a while to set up the background of the story and the relationships of the characters involved. Along with the three childhood friends, other characters of note are Sayori’s mother and father and Sendo (Makoto Satô), a perpetual pilgrim at the islands 88 temples.

Hinako begins to dream of her deceased schoolmate and notices something strange going on at Sayori’s old house and enlists the help of Fumiya to discover what is going on. They find out that Sayori’s mother, Teruko (Toshie Negishi) has been visiting the temples backwards in a ‘reverse pilgrimage’ every year as part of an attempt to bring her daughter back to life. The pair consult with local paranormal experts who direct them to the creepy old man (C.O.M), Sendo, who realises what Teruko is trying to do. Hinako and Fumiya are too slow to catch the deranged Teruko and following a ceremony at the local ‘no-go’ creepy cave/pond region, complete with an ominous stone obelisk which culminates with Sayori emerging algae covered from a primordial soup.

With the barrier between the land of the dead and the land of the living breached other spirits begin to cross over and the film culminates in a dramatic scene at the gateway to the land of the dead in which the C.O.M along with Hinako and Fumiya try to seal the barrier again.

Sinkoku is a very restrained film, which at the beginning I was worried was not going to get anywhere, but after a slow start I was sucked into. The religious beliefs behind the plot are interesting and the facts needed by the viewer are skilfully and subtly shown to the viewer, rather than spoon fed as in many big Hollywood blockbusters. I would very much recommend this film to anyone looking for a sensitive, clever film but it is not for those looking for a fast paced, shock filled film.

13 Ghosts (1960 and 2001)

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The 2001 remake directed by Steve Beck (Ghost Ship) bears very little resemblance to the 1960 original by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) other than there is a house haunted by twelve ghosts left to the central family by a creepy uncle with an obsession with the occult.

In the original, the house is left by Dr. Plato Zorba to his nephew and family; Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) and their two children Medea (Jo Morrow) a flirty young woman or indeterminate age, and Buck (Charles Herbert) a ghost obsessed ten year old.  In the 2001 remake, the names are changed, the creepy uncle becomes Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and the nephew and family now consists of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), Mrs. Kriticos having died in a house fire six months previously. In both films the family are having financial problems and the offer of a large house seems too good to be true (and it turns out is!)

In both there are two other characters (not counting the ghosts) common to both films, the lawyer after the hidden fortune – Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner) and Benjamin Moss (JR Bourne) in the 1960 and 2001 films respectively, and the housekeeper/nanny who changes from the inherited housekeeper ‘witch’ played by Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch of the west in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz) to a nanny with an attitude played by Rah Digga. In the remake there are several additional characters including the psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and ghost hunter Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz).

In the 2001 film the house is a work of art, a giant glass jigsaw of sliding walls that release ghosts from the basement and in one memorable scene, cuts the lawyer in half. The house is controlled from a secret room at the top of the house from which the ghosts are released one by one by pulling levers on what looks like a giant old fashioned cash register. At the centre of this house, which turns out to be a machine is a series of concentric rings that begin to rotate from the centre as the film progresses. In contrast, the original house is the usual sprawling mansion and the only remarkable thing is a descending canopy on a bed that was used to smother people.

One thing the two films do have in common is that the ghosts can only be observed through a special pair of glasses. In the original this was used to great effect with Illusion-O, in which a ghost viewer being handed out to audience members featuring a blue and a red cellophane sections. To emulate the ghost viewer I used a handy pair of old fashioned 3D glasses but it is possible to view the film without it. William Castle appears at the start of the film and explains that when the screen turns blue (from the usual black and white) that, if you believe in ghosts to look through the red and if you don’t, to look through the blue section. The ghosts are shown in red with the rest of the scene in blue. The red filter intensifies the ghosts and the blue filter ‘removed’ them. It was very entertaining to play ghost-no-ghost by closing the relevant eye for each filter.

The ghosts in the two films are very different and play a greater role in the film’s plot in the remake. In the original the ghosts consist of four burning ghosts and a cartwheel of fire, a chef and his murdered wife and in-laws and a headless lion tamer and lion. In the remake the twelve ghosts make up the black zodiac and each has a back story. The ghosts range from the first born son (a child dressed as a cowboy with an arrow through his forehead) to the torn prince (a 1950’s jock with a baseball bat) to psychotic killers known as The Jackal and the Juggernaut.

These two films are both good films in their own right but I would not call the later film a remake of the 1960 film, rather that it was inspired by it. Neither film are particularly scary, but have different factors recommending them, the Illusion-O in the 1960 version and the amazing set design in the 2001 version.

 

Apartment 143 (2012)

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Apartment 143, or Emergo as it was originally titled, follows a team of ‘ghost hunters’ from an (unnamed) institute specialising in parapsychology who are investigating a haunting at the eponymous apartment which belongs to the White family. The White family’s life has recently taken a nose dive, with the loss of Alan’s (Mr White) job and the death of the mother in a car crash leading to the family downsizing into the shabby apartment in an almost empty block of flats. Since the death of Mrs. White strange events have been occurring to the family and Benny, the four year old son, insists that his mother is neither dead nor alive. The final member of the family is Caitlin, a sullen teenager who is predictably uncooperative with the incoming team.

The team of paranormal investigators ticks all the diversity boxes, consisting of a white middle aged man, Dr. Helzer (Michael  O’Keefe, Frozen River) a blonde Irish female assistant named Ellen (Fiona Glascot, Resident Evil ) and Paul, a cocky, Hispanic techie (Rick Gonzalez, Coach Carter). The investigators are equipped with the expected array of gadgets, including multiple still and video cameras (with the obligatory scene of the cameras being put up) and various probes.

The largest negative of the film the amount of pseudo-science used in the film to explain away what the researchers were doing and the ensuing supernatural events. The film relies too much on vaguely scientific long words and pop psychology to explain and link a series of gratifying frights.

The jumps start early into the film (only six and a half minutes in to be exact) and continues to build throughout the film. The narrative is fast paced and straight forward with an obvious beginning middle and end. Apartment 143 is filmed in the typical low budget hand held camera style, from both hand held cameras and cameras in the side of Ellen and Paul’s head. The director, Carles Torrens, uses almost all the well-known cinematic techniques (including night vision and strobe lighting) and plot devices (the  use of a medium to contact the ghost, hidden secrets in the family and so on) to great effect and produces a variety of scenes to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. In fact, Apartment 143 is a very good candidate for supernatural horror film bingo!

Whilst the plot of the film is unoriginal and the techniques used to generate scares are well known it is a well-made and well thought out 80 minutes and delivers the desired jumps and shocks throughout the film. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a decent ghost film and I look forward to seeing what Torrens does next.