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Friday, 28 February 2014

One-Star Wonders


What do you say about a film that is so bad it leaves you speechless? After having two bad movie experiences in a row, I began to grapple with how to approach reviewing them. Finally I decided that for films this bad, it would be best to create a whole new category.

I rate films on a five star basis. Generally speaking, 2 stars are allotted for Story: Does the film have a strong narrative foundation? Does it develop in an interesting way? Then there are 2 stars allotted for Plot: Is the story presented in an interesting way? Is there anything particularly attractive about the aesthetics/cinematography? And lastly, since these are horror films, 1 star is reserved for the film's scare (or thrill/fun) factor. On that note....

Presenting the first instalment of One-Star Wonders, a segment reserved for films that are so bad they do not meet any of my criteria in full.


Up first, Sharknado, which manages it's one star based on story alone - surprisingly, it does have one. It's just not very good.

In all fairness, if you have a fear of sharks, or live by an ocean I may be inclined to accept an argument for 1.5 Stars. The story focuses on a ocean-side bar owner. When the news reports begin warning of a vicious tornado flooding the city and carrying dangerous sharks into homes and streets, he decides it is his heroic duty to get to his ex-wife and daughter. 
Bad acting (mostly Tara Reid... go figure), Bad CGI, and very questionable understandings of physics, mechanics, and sharks. It was almost bad enough to enjoy laughing at - it would have been much more fun to watch if it didn't insist on taking itself so seriously.

Next up, The Invoking, which gets half a star for plot in regards to cinematography (the beautiful landscape photographs nicely and this is taken advantage of), and half for its scare factor.

This is the story of Samantha Harris who inherits a house from a family she never knew. Having been adopted at a young age, Sam is a little out of her element and brings three friends along to the secluded cabin for a weekend of what she hopes will be fun. But what one might expect to be an emotional experience quickly seems to drive Sam certifiably insane as the past begins to take her over and she loses her grip on reality. Oh, and the young guy who claims to remember her from their childhood has a definite Bates-thing going on.
I can admit that there is potential here, so much so that I remained hopeful while watching. But the end was clearly rushed and anywhere it seemed to be going was disrupted in favour of a "twist" (if you can call it that). Although the film was low budget, only one person's acting was unbearable (Andi Norris as Caitlin), but since she had a big role it was a BIG damper on everything.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

THE PACT (2012) and the New Direction of Horror

Family can be a real burden...

3.5 Stars

Is it just me or have the countless horror sub-genres been becoming more and more indistinguishable? Since the 90s, horror has been being discussed by academics as apocalyptic, reactionary, postmodern, transgeneric, etc. But lately I have been wondering if the diverseness of the American horror is withering, if the genre is not in some kind of melting-pot phase within which desperate attempts to be original only spawn convoluted plots. In the days of black and white, Universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s Creation used to clearly represent the threat of the Other in relation to race/class. And of course there were also the brilliant suspense films, specialized in by the unmatched talent of Alfred Hitchcock. After Psycho and into the 70s and 80s came the modern Slasher flick which by the 90s had taken form as a who-dun-it mystery, maintaing its dedication to blood and nudity. Ghost movies were always popular, but the paranormal phase has definitely reached a new level of demand with the recent craze for the “found-footage” film. So what now? 

It seems a lot of horror filmmakers have taken to the art of trickery; betraying the viewer. Horror films are getting more and more difficult to define, label, or even explain - how many times have you tried to talk about a movie and said “it’a kind of a ghost story, but...” ? 

I have been saying that quite a bit lately. So, The Pact - It’s kind of a ghost story, but... There is also a flesh and blood bad guy. 

And this is pretty much the direction horror has been moving in. This week alone I have witnessed it in this film, Haunter, and The Invoking, all of which are releases from the last year or two. Generally speaking, this blending of horror elements does make for pretty perplexing plots (convoluted, as I mentioned earlier), but this doesn’t mean they can’t come together nicely by the end. The Invoking does not, so don’t waste your time, but The Pact really does do a pretty good job at making the pieces fit.
Resisting the return home for her mother’s funeral, Annie finally gives in to her sister’s guilt-trip, only to find the house is empty; her sister has vanished. Convinced the stress of their mother’s death and revisiting painful childhood memories has simply pushed her sister back to drugs, Annie remains in the house awaiting her return. Only she won’t return. This becomes clear when what seems to be a malevolent spirit attacks Annie and leaves her no choice but to investigate her mother’s past - she could leave, but then she’d be giving up on her sister and failing her niece.... plus, the movie would be over pretty quickly.

Even though the story puts itself together quite slowly and in something of a roundabout manner, the film has some great moments in terms of creepiness and surprises. And the closet scene is a nice nod to Halloween. 

So while I'm unsure of what to make of this new direction, I can appreciate it when it works.

Friday, 21 February 2014

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (Amy Holden Jones 1982): Successful Parody, Or Just Redundant?

Suggestive... That’s an understatement.

4 stars

No doubt this film is cramming slasher conventions down our throats. We have:

Unsupervised teens
Sexualizing of young girls/nudity
Breakdown of communication (this always carries fatal ramifications)
Suburban setting (in the tradition of Black Christmas or Halloween)
Inept Authorities
Bloody murders

But the question is, is this film actually parodying these conventions? Notoriously this has been considered a feminist slasher because of its parodic tone and the “masculinized” girls who are all on the high school basketball team. More significant perhaps is that it was written by a famous feminist Rita Mae Brown, and directed by another woman, Amy Holden Jones. The women have repeatedly defended the film as poking fun at the misogyny of the slasher genre. Suffice it to say then, if you read the slow pan across the naked bodies, slumber party antics, and drill wielding killer as crude, you have missed the point. Well, that or your standards for irony are much higher than Brown’s and Jones’s, which would also be fair. 


I’ve watched this film a few times, and as much as I enjoy it, my opinion of it has often flip flopped. I recognize and appreciate the effort, but sometimes I feel like it fails to deliver its message. In trying to point out how silly these conventions are, SPM is often just as guilty of them. Much of the film is still ridiculous, and making the girls athletes hardly detracts from the fact that their running around the house half naked. I mean really, who are you trying to impress in that lingerie during your casual girls night in? 

It’s clear that Brown had a bone to pick with the genre, but it doesn’t seem like she knew exactly how to convey that bone. So maybe it is a parody, but it’s not as thought-provoking as she likely wanted it to be. Still, even after over-using every convention, the film does have a great finale. 3 Final Girls! I did not see that coming. Most people, even today, expect one girl to live and maybe even defeat the killer while she’s at it. But, especially in the 80s, three is a real shocker. The final girl convention is arguably the genre’s most valuable asset, no one tires of it and yet when it gets played with, everyone gets excited. In SPM, not only do three girls live, but one in particular kills the assailant... But not before castrating him...

Ok, ok, she only chops his drill in half - but come on, close enough!

I may not be able to decide how successful this film is at parodying, but I can say with certainty that it’s always fun to watch it try. Even while exaggerating conventions, it still manages to have surprisingly fresh moments. And if you are NOT tired of slasher conventions, there are ton to indulge in here.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

THE AWAKENING (Nick Murphy 2011): Chills, But NO Thrills

That I want to like this film should count for something, I guess. 

2.5 Stars

I don’t believe there is much to say about this movie. Thematically, it shares some similarities with one of my very favorite ghost movies, The Others (Alejandro Amenabar 2001). It also seems to take some cues from a British classic, The Innocents (Jack Clayton 1961).  Come to think of it, the rather unexpected ending of Murphy’s film does not even seem entirely different from Amenabar’s nor Clayton’s endings. And this explains why I certainly wasn’t blown away by its capacity for originality (although I suspect the writers expected me to be). But the fact is, this movie is lackluster. By the time it picks up I’m hardly relieved, since I’ve already settled into not caring. 

To be fair, I did immediately love Rebecca Hall’s character, Florence. The film opens with a group of people gathered for a public seance. These were actually quite a popular form of entertainment as far back as the mid 19th Century, especially among the rich and famous. 

Abraham Linclon and company

Of course, sometimes they were more serious than others (Lincoln's wife for instance did mean to contact a very missed loved one). By 1920 though, many professionals had debunked mediumship, exposing its fraudulence. But the showmanship associated with it remains captivating to many. And then of course there are still believers who perform seances as part of religious ritual. But Florence will have none of this. An avid non-believer, and taking on a role similar to Joseph McCabe, she has dedicated her life to "ghost hunting" as a means of exposing the truth. She has even written a book. Florence storms in on the seance in the opening and hurries about the room, smugly revealing the trick behind each "miracle". She is strong and witty, but after waiting around for her story to develop, I suddenly realized I was over it. I was then let down to find everything I liked about her could be stripped away by a semi-creepy, ill-explained doll house, and a few other strange events. 

How can a film with such a strong start falter so quickly?  It really is frustrating. Furthermore, the “jump scares” really only create a chilling atmosphere, suited to the beautifully cold landscape and color pallet. That is, I’m never actually scared.

I can’t ignore how aesthetically beautiful this movie is, nor how boring. To quote Roger Ebert in his own 2012 review of it, “Whatever. The Awakening looks great but never develops a plot with enough clarity to engage us”.

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Misogyny, Sexual Anxiety, and Daddy Issues... Big Surprise. But Hey, It’s a Classic.

3.5 Stars

Carol clover writes, “Horror privileges the eyes because, more crucially than any other kind of cinema, it is about the eyes”. Peeping Tom is exemplary of this. Despite Michael Powell’s assertion that his film is not a horror, but rather a film about the cinema from 1900-1960, Clover rightly describes the film more specifically as a “horror metafilm”. 

Produced the same year as Psycho and exhibiting stunningly similar themes, it is the story of a young man named Mark who is psychologically damaged from growing up as the subject of his fathers intense voyeurism. Subsequently he finds himself suffering from “scoptophilia”, which the film describes as “the morbid desire to gaze”. To satisfy this desire, Mark obsessively carries a camera with him everywhere, secretly recording women until he can get them alone, at which point he murders them. His weapon of choice is the sharp end of a tripod, which he stabs women with while recording their reactions. Worse, he attaches a mirror to the camera allowing the women to watch themselves die as well. 

Arguably, this film does not strictly adhere to the conventions of the stalk n’ slash, which were not defined until the 1970s. But it is an important predecessor with its focus on the stalking of women, the objectification of women, and a serial killer who targets sexual transgressors. 

The film has been accused of copying Psycho despite its being released simultaneously (and first in some cities), but what really strikes me as different is Mark’s inability to “keep cool”. For all his creepiness and mental instability, Bates is actually quite suave. A twitch here and there alerts us to his weaknesses but overall he is convincingly normal when he needs to be. This is his strongest quality, it is what makes him him. But it is a quality that Mark desperately lacks. To all of his victims, the prostitute, the model, and the aspiring actress I say, “seriously! you’re going to be alone with this creep?!” 

If I learned anything from this movie, it’s that stranger danger is real. I admit, Mark is something of a sympathetic monster, because (like Norman) his issues stem from his childhood, and run deep. But, that does not mean I would let this guy, or his camera, anywhere near me. I shudder at the thought. No, I’ll just feel bad for him from a far thank you.

It’s all a little pop-psychology, but Powell still does a nice job of creating a well-rounded killer. His strengths and weaknesses are all carefully presented and the juxtaposition of point-of-view shots and close-ups all work to create a very claustrophobic atmosphere that is representative of how this guy experiences the world. Plus, its own appreciation for cinema is quite beautiful... in a totally uncomfortable and dark way.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

THE SKELETON KEY (2005): It's Not Just a Ghost Story, It's Hoodoo.

4.5 Stars

I love this film. Admittedly, I am somewhat biased by a sense of nostalgia. The first time I saw The Skeleton Key, eight or nine years ago, I was a teenager living in Montreal, QC., and had never been outside of it. I was quite overwhelmed by a sense of stasis and bothered by the familiarity of home, which explains my Anne Rice phase. I was immediately swayed by the (romanticized) imagery of New Orleans in her books. The aesthetics came to life for me when I watched Interview With the Vampire, and I simply could never get enough of that atmosphere. Unfortunately, although I am no longer in Montreal, I have yet to make it to New Orleans. And so I remain fascinated by stories of the locale. But there are other reasons I am so drawn to this film in particular. Significantly, the New Orleans backdrop works here to explore the challenging concepts of Belief, Displacement, and Difference. 

When Caroline takes a job as a home-care nurse in New Orleans, her curiosity is instantly aroused by the mysterious situation of her patient. Unable to discuss it with him (a stroke has left him silenced and bed-ridden), she decides to brush up on her investigative skills, only to stumble upon the world of hoodoo. Right away she learns a respected rule: if you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you. But as the plot unfolds, she learns that Belief is a tricky thing. How can one acknowledge but not believe? The complexity of this question contributes to the film’s creepy tone.

Completely out of her element, there is an interesting affinity between Caroline and the hoodoo practitioners she meets - that of Displacement. As she is informed, “the slaves brought voodoo with them”, eventually making New Orleans the birthplace of hoodoo (black magic). Thus, in order for Caroline to get the answers she seeks, she must overstep her boundaries, entering an essentially diasporic space. Her ability to do this, however, signals her own “migrant” position in an unexpected way. The indication is that she has never been able to define home, and has therefore become accustom to not belonging. This is evident in how comfortable she is with intrusion.

Lastly, there is the concept of Difference. A staple of the horror genre is to play on people’s fear of the unknown, of the Other. The Skeleton Key is no exception. Much of the suspense comes from the attempts to understand hoodoo in order to reverse its effects. The practitioners are pointed to as different. They are dark-skinned, french-speaking, and hidden-away in laundromats. This is meant to intimidate the audience, to make them uncomfortable. This form of Othering has often been discussed as problematic, however effective. But here, Caroline’s own sense of Otherness complicates this. 

No spoilers, but I will say that with all of this in mind, the final twist can be read as either progressive, or reactionary (meaning, conformist/conservative). I find this refreshing.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984): Pardon my Colloquialism, but WTF?!

Welcome to Nebraska. Serving Repression & Corn Chowder All Year-Round!

Well, now I know why I'm so afraid of cornfields... and kids... and Cousin Itt...

3 Stars.

As much fun as this film is to watch, it is pretty restrictive in its reactionary ideology. While the children of Gatlin are portrayed as a cult-community, preaching a dangerous belief system that demands human sacrifice, the film is not anti-religious. In fact, when Bert and Vicky arrive, Bert’s desire to get to the bottom of the mysterious town secrets is inherently linked to his privileged position as a status-quo guy. Notably, he takes immediate interest in converting them to Christianity. At the sight of their hand-made corn-cross, an obvious religious symbol and sacred object, Bert deems it “primitive folk art”. Granted, he may not go so far as to try to become their new leader, but he does attempt a heart-felt speech, stating that any religion that is not about love cannot be a religion. He begs of them to use their ability to reason in order to see things his way. 

His Christian values are, however, challenged by his own lifestyle. A doctor, a man of science, and a man who refuses to commit to the woman he shares a bed with. Yet, he is simply unwilling to accept that some middle-of-nowhere town would have the audacity to rewrite his bible. I would like to say he should get off his own high-horse but, WOW, those Gatlin kids are really disturbing! (Especially  Isaac. Fun fact, John Franklin went on to portray Cousin Itt, twice)

Presenting the community as religious nuts is a little problematic, but by the end the film fully reinforces traditional values by having Bert and Vicky walk off into the sunset (so to speak) with their new children. They can be a ‘proper’ family now. Bert even finally says “I love you”. So, despite revealing the dangers of religious righteousness, the film is not progressive. I can live with that. But is there something to be said for the fact that the kids successfully kill their parents? 

In most non-progressive films, by the time the evil is subdued, the only people who have succumbed to their wrath are those that can be found “deserving”, like the poor promiscuous teens in every slasher film, ever. But here, all the good townsfolk die... even the old cooky mechanic! Talk about Return of the Repressed! Robin Wood has used Freudian theory on repression to explain that monsters are made up of what our societies most repress. Ranking #8 on his list, Children: “What the previous generation repressed in us, we, in turn, repress in our children, seeking to mold them into replicas of ourselves”. But the Children of the Corn, though defeated in the end, managed to execute their hostile revenge, slaughtering all the adults and taking over. The children, if even for a short time, held the power. 


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

SCREAM, For the Love of Horror: A Discussion About Participatory Spectatorship and Intertextuality

Please note: This is not a film review. This is a short critical essay about spectatorship, using the Scream franchise as a case study. Largely, it is a consideration of Constantine Verevis's complex understanding of the film remake, applied to the concept of homage.

In the introduction to a book entitled Film Remakes, Constantine Verevis opens the discussion by posing a list of questions designed to inspire critical thought about how we understand the remake. Ultimately, Verevis’s argument becomes that in order to properly understand film remakes and the concept of remaking itself, “it seems necessary  to stress the need for detailed (historical) investigation and research ... in both its legal-industrial and critical-interpretive definitions” (29). Because remakes demand such a high level of audience interaction, it does seem that such a cinema is unique in its ability to act as a cinematic study in and of itself. That is, in order to fully enjoy the film, one must either approach it with a prior knowledge of the original text, or walk away from it with a new thirst for such knowledge. 

Remaking as necessarily intertextual (another point made by Verevis) can therefore be discussed as a cinema for the fans, and a significant aspect of cinephilia. This concept can be broadened so as to define cinematic intertextuality itself, of which the remake can only be considered a part of. This essay will consider Steve Neale’s concept of verisimilitude and the genre, specifically horror, in relation to Verevis’ inclusive definition of remaking. My case study will be Wes Craven’s Scream (1996),  which exists primarily as an homage to the genre itself, and secondarily as a critical analysis of horror fandom. The problem I wish to address through this study is how to approach a film that is neither self-contained nor adherent to a rigid definition of “remake”. Thus I wonder, with the kind of contemporary spectatorship Verevis considers extensively film-literate (18), is it simply intention that decides the degree to which a film is intertextual, or does the accessibility of film history now place the responsibility of cross-referencing on the spectator to an alarming degree? Perhaps the definition of the term “remake” has less to do with story and plot, and more to do with interpretation.

According to Verevis, “remakes do no consist simply of bodies of films but, like genres, are located too in ‘expectations and audience knowledge’” (23). Although not specifically remaking any one text, the originality of Scream which led to its great (continuing) success has much to do with its ability to locate itself within a dialogue about horror as a genre; the repetitiveness or reliability of genre conventions is not only key to its narrative, but key to its extreme sense of ‘horrality’. Philip Brophy uses this term as an embodiment of the contemporary horror film as being in the parodic phase of its genre cycle by way of its recognition of itself as generic. It is defined as combining elements of horror with textuality, morality and hilarity (277). In Scream, plot conventions are not only used, but discussed. Take, for instance, the moment Sidney (Neve Campbell) is asked what her favorite scary movie is. Her response, without delay, consciously points to the overwhelming consistency of such movies: “You know I don’t watch that shit... what’s the point...they’re all the same”. This statement suggests that, what Neale describes as the regimes of verisimilitude entailing rules, norms and laws (32), are actually too rigid to be repeatedly successful. And yet, Craven plays with this idea so as to both manipulate and confront the verisimilitude, without actually abandoning it. The viewer is therefore asked to appreciate the genre conventions in a new way, recognizing but making light of more acute genre criticisms.

Neale borrows the concept of verisimilitude from Todorov, who understood it as existing in two distinct ways, generic and socio/cultural. The former deals with how a spectator understands the rules of a particular genre to which the film being viewed belongs, and expectations are derived from this. At the same time, the latter deals with what the viewer is willing to perceive as ‘realistic’ based upon the beliefs of their socio/cultural makeup. While neither equates directly to ‘reality’ or ‘truth’, they do each shape how a spectator relates to a film (32). But it is through the film’s relationship with other filmic texts that Johnathan Culler’s concept of verisimilitude can be discussed. For Culler, verisimilitude has to do with the ways in which a text  is made intelligible by its being brought into contact with and defined in relation to another text (32). In fact, Scream manages to embody, to some degree, all five of Culler’s examples: socially given text, general cultural text, conventions of a genre, explicit exposition of genre conventions, and specific intertextualities or taking another work as a basis. The last example seems to be determinately about film remaking, but I would like to extend it to the realm of homage, a space within which Scream seems suited to, albeit to many texts as opposed to one in particular. 

Not only are the characters themselves aware of (if not fans of) horror cinema, but they actually represent the contemporary audience that Verevis writes of. For him, the “virtual mobility of contemporary spectatorship” has to do with new information storage technologies (such as DVDs) which “radically extends the kind of film literacy... that was inaugurated by the age of television” (18). An overwhelming number of filmic references are made throughout their dialogues, citing films like Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist. Not to mention the viewing of Halloween. Moreover, much of their conversations allude the repetitive nature of the horror genre, such as: “This is standard horror movie stuff!... There is a very simple formula!” (Randy), or “You’re starting to sound like some Wes Carpenter flick” (Tatum). The latter cleverly combines the names of two big name horror film directors, one of which is Wes Craven himself. The sense then is that the genre has become so standardized that each film blurs with the next, or even, is to some extent a remake of the prior.

Verevis notes that the remake has not had a great reputation as it has been criticized for its  ‘laziness’, that it lacks originality (4). But he also points out that “remakes (along with sequels and series) work then to satisfy the requirement that Hollywood deliver reliability (repetition) and novelty (innovation) in the same production package” (4). This is exactly what Craven’s franchise does. The success of  the 4 film franchise also suggests that this is what the fans want, to interact with all the films they love, and all the aspects of the genre they love and hate, at once (hence the many parodic gestures). Like actual film remaking, which I tend to define as having an intention to re-imagine a particular production, these films depend on audience activity. The expectation is “not only prior knowledge of previous texts and intertextual relationships, but an understanding of broader generic structures and categories” (Verevis 2). When Verevis asks “How does film remaking differ from other types of repetition, such as quotation, allusion and adaptation?”, I wonder to what extent it does differ. All of these film practices have something in common, they speak to the fans.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of Scream has to do with normalizing of horror-film literacy among its characters, and making their lives depend on it. Randy (Jamie Kennedy) relies completely on verisimilitude in order to survive. Because of his experience with the genre as a spectator, he knows what to expect from a killer whose catch phrase is “What’s your favorite scary movie?” Randy’s ability to relate to the killer as a horror fan not only gives him an upper hand, but a sense of authority; he helps others survive for the duration of three films by sharing his knowledge with them. His role in the narrative mirrors the active or participatory spectatorship Craven expects the audience to partake in, the goal is stay one step ahead of the killer. Thus, Craven essentially debunks the myth that repetition is lazy. Whereas in other horror films, being able to do this may be considered a failure, here, it is necessary to properly experience his film, which is not only following genre conventions but using them to create a unique narrative. Those most well versed in horror cinema, live the longest.

Horror fandom is constantly being critically analyzed by many theorists (Robin Wood, Isabelle Christina Pinedo, Matt Hills, to name a few), which is not surprising considering their massive popularity alongside their violent nature. Ghostface, the guise of the interchangeable killers of the Scream films, represents the fear associated with horror fandom, which is that it may be synonymous with sadism and/or masochism. Craven addresses this directly when Billy Loomis, now revealed as one of the killers, yells out “movies don’t create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!” The humorous, but loaded, comment at once invites spectators to indulge in the pleasures of the abject, free from judgement, as well as to consider the ramifications of a desensitized society. 

Craven’s success is largely in his ability to speak to the fans. This is not so removed from Verevis’ statement that in a commercial context, “remakes are ‘pre-sold’ because viewers are assumed to have some prior experience” with the earlier text (3). Ultimately though, Scream itself does not fit into any of the categories of film remaking offered by Verevis, and yet as an intertextual work that adheres to genre conventions, it does not seem so far removed from any of the definitions either. Subsequently, its relationship with verisimilitude demands a very high level of participatory spectatorship; viewers are to be engaging and interacting with the film at all times. While it is difficult to define the type of film Scream is, when it is analyzed against these concepts, what does become clear is how significant the role of spectatorship is in defining ‘the remake’. To say that if a film has a relationship to another text it is a remake seems too broad because such relationships can be difficult to avoid, especially in relation to the genre. Neale’s chapter suggests that there is something inherently intertextual about genre filmmaking, apparent in its ability to incite verisimilitude, making Scream intertextual in both its status as a horror and in its intention to pay homage to horror films before it, to such a high degree that it manages to border on ‘remaking’.

Works Cited
Brophy, Philip. “Horrality  - The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films”. The Horror Reader. ed. Ked Gelder. London: Routledge. 1983.
Neale, Steve. Genre and Hollywood. London: Routledge. 2000.
Verevis, Constantine. Film Remakes. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005.

A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS (Brett Donowho 2013): WOW... That is REALLY Bad Parenting!

3 Stars

Although a pretty typical “new home, ghost story”, this movie was actually pretty fun to watch, especially since it is apparent that the filmmaker is a horror fan himself. Instead of having the dialogue loaded up with overused intertextual references, as so many films do these days, Donowho used imagery that only other fans might recognize. In this particular case, the cliches and nods gave the film character, making watching it like a charming little game. While not particularly artistic or masterful, the film scores points with me for ‘scrap-booking’ so many horror greats in order to create its own story. But keep in mind, it is an indie-horror, not a Hollywood blockbuster.

Here are some of the nods I noticed:

  1. Spinning Head imagery (Exorcist)
  2. Chopping Wood imagery (Amityville Horror)
  3. Twin Ghosts (Shining), somewhat modeled after J-Horror 
  4. Serial Killing Couple (Natural Born Killers)
  5. Curious Neighborhood Boy/Unexpected Hero (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, among others)

Furthermore, this film is full of life lessons. Such as...

5 ways to screw up your recently orphaned neice:

1. Give her no privacy. No really, go ahead, enter her room unannounced while she’s changing.   
2. Accuse her of petty crimes, like stealing your scarf.
3. Lock her in a bathroom when you go out for date-night... After all, she did steal your scarf.
4. When you find her catatonic on the bathroom floor, force pills down her throat and put her to bed. Surely she just needs some rest. 
Oh, don’t forget to put her in sexy satin pajamas first...
5. When push comes to shove, make sure you have a secret trap door in your basement


5 ways to ruin your first date with the screwed up orphan:
  1. Take her to a party in a haunted town and tell her ghost stories
  2. Assume she’s into drugs... She’s from L.A., right? 
  3. Spend an absurd amount of money on drugs and then whine when she doesn’t want them... 
  4. When running away from the police, lose her in the smallest crowd ever
  5. Be very upset when she allows someone else to drive her home. She should have stayed in the woods and waited for your gallant return! It’s not like you had been arrested... Oh wait, yes you were. I guess possessive is in this season.

Never obnoxious, I have to say this film did a nice job of coming into itself. Everything that struck me as odd turned out to have a place in the plot. And bonus, Erick Avari plays the creepy psychologist! 

Fine by me.