The Babadook (2014) review

The Babadook posterDirector: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McIlhinney, voice of Tim Purcell

AMELIA – “If the Babadook was real we’d see it right now, wouldn’t we?”
SAMUEL – “It wants to scare you first. Then you’ll see it.”
AMELIA – “Well, I’m not scared.”
SAMUEL – “You will be when it creeps into your room at night.”
AMELIA – “That’s enough.”
SAMUEL – “You will be when it eats your insides.”

Living in London as I currently do, I take the Tube into work. Right where I stand to wait for my train, there’s been a poster for The Babadook up on the wall for the last month or two.

I’ve spent so long studying that poster (as you do when you’re bored) I’ve memorised the four review quotes on it, and can recite them off by heart.

“There goes your peaceful night’s sleep,” reads one. “One of the strongest, most effective horror films of recent years,” declares another.

“Truly frightening,” a third simply states. And then, the fourth and final claim that truly piqued my interest: “A flat-out masterpiece.”

I was curious. After all, in my eyes the horror genre hasn’t been blessed with too many masterpieces in recent years. Sadly, having now watched The Babadook, that situation hasn’t changed for me. Continue reading “The Babadook (2014) review”

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) review

Jason Goes To Hell posterDirector: Adam Marcus

Starring: Kane Hodder, Kari Keegan, John D LeMay, Steven Williams

STEVEN – “Duke! The part about being reborn through a Voorhees woman, does it have to be a living woman?”
DUKE – “No.”
STEVEN – “Duke, that thing is in the basement with Jessica’s dead mother.”
DUKE – “Mother of God.”

Here’s the story. After Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan died on its arse and drew the lowest ever box office in the series’ history, Paramount was done with it.

Step forward New Line Cinema, who owned A Nightmare On Elm Street. New Line had been itching to make a film pitting their own Freddy Krueger against Jason for a while, but the fact that they owned Freddy while Paramount owned Jason meant it was a logistical nightmare.

New Line’s solution was impeccable: buy Jason from Paramount at a low price while his name is mud at the studio, make him popular again then make the Freddy vs Jason film everyone wants to see. Continue reading “Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) review”

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) review

Exorcist II: The Heretic posterDirector: John Borman

Starring: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, James Earl Jones

FATHER LAMONT – “I’ve flown this route before.”
HELICOPTER PILOT – “Oh yes?”
FATHER LAMONT – “Yes. It was on the wings of a demon.”

I’ve said plenty of times before that The Exorcist (and its subsequent Director’s Cut) is one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s terrifying, it’s spectacular, it’s faith-challenging and it’s supremely acted. In a way then Exorcist II: The Heretic is even more impressive, because it takes one of the finest films ever and follows it up with a sequel so brain-achingly bad it’s without doubt the biggest drop in quality in film sequel history.

Set four years after the events in Georgetown, 18-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair again) is now living in New York with her mum’s friend Sharon (Kitty Winn, also returning from the first film) while her mum is off making another movie. Regan claims she doesn’t remember any of the events of the first film, but she’s being monitored by a psychiatrist anyway. The psychiatrist, Dr Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) reckons Regan’s suppressing those memories and she wants to try hypnosis to free them.

Exorcist II: The Heretic
This facial expression sums up Exorcist II better than any mere words can

Meanwhile, a priest called Father Lamont has been assigned by the Church to investigate the death of Father Merrin at the end of the first film, so he visits Regan to try to get answers. So far, so normal. But this is still only the first ten minutes or so. Then it gets bad.

It’s said that when Exorcist II had its premiere, the audience were fine with it until the “synchroniser” was introduced. At this point the audience burst into hysterical laughter and the film could never win back their respect. It’s little wonder why – it’s the exact moment all the accolades and reputation earned by The Exorcist are flushed down the toilet and the series turns into hokey sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Continue reading “Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) review”

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) review

Director: Tod Williams

Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

“We just can’t let this affect us that much. If we do that, the terrorists win.” (Daniel, Paranormal Activity 2)

After the success of The Blair Witch Project, the inevitable sequel followed. Rather than sticking with what worked and going with another low-budget handheld camera effort, the filmmakers went with a big $15 million production that felt nothing like the original. It was a moderate success but most fans of the first film hated it (personally, I liked it but that’s for another review). No doubt with this in mind, the makers of Paranormal Activity instead decided if it wasn’t broke they shouldn’t try to fix it, and so Paranormal Activity 2 is more or less the same as the first movie.

"Oh hello son. I appear to have fallen arse over tit. Be a dear, help me up"

Once again we’ve got a couple moving into a new home, and once again we’ve got the whole thing captured on home video cameras (with security cameras chucked into the mix too this time). Once again weird shit starts going down, and once again it seems clear that there’s some sort of demon terrorising them.

Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity 2 seems to lose something that the original had – the sense of intimacy that made it so powerful. Whereas the original film simply consisted of a couple moving in together for the first time, using a single store-bought camera to record the weird goings-on that have started to happen, this time so many new elements are introduced to try and add some variety. Instead though, they just make the situation more complicated.  Continue reading “Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) review”

The Shrine (2010) review

Director: Jon Knautz

Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore, Meghan Heffern

“There is no retribution.” (Carmen, The Shrine)

Top tip for any budding filmmakers out there – if you’re going to set a film in a foreign location, make sure you read up on it first. Otherwise you’ll end up like The Shrine, a film set in the fictional Polish village of Alvania. That’s Poland, as in the country that doesn’t use the letter V in its language. That said, cultural inaccuracies aside, The Shrine is a half-decent horror that starts slow but ultimately ends well.

It tells the story of Carmen, a journalist who’s investigating claims that some tourists are travelling to Europe and going missing, only for their bodies and luggage to turn up in separate European countries. Carmen uses one of the missing persons’ journal to discover that they were last seen in Alvania, so she heads there with her photographer boyfriend and Sara, her intern.

I wonder if you'd be offended watching this film if you were Polish

When they get there they find an odd, dense fog in one section of forest, inside which sits an evil-looking statue. After entering the fog and seeing some weird shit, Carmen and Sara decide it’s time to leave but before the trio can get out of Alvania they’re captured by the locals, who it turns out don’t take too kindly to people who stand in their creepy fog.

To say too much more about The Shrine would be spoiling it, so I won’t. One thing I will say though is that it takes a pretty long time to get going. Once the three are captured things pick up a little and a couple of particularly nasty, gory scenes set the tone (tip – if you’re squeamish about sharp things slicing your heels or poking your eyes, it might be best to look away).  Continue reading “The Shrine (2010) review”

The Prophecy (1995) review

Director: Gregory Widen

Starring: Christopher Walken, Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen, Moriah Snyder

Also known as: God’s Army

“I’m an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even – when I feel like it – rip the souls from little girls. And from now until kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why.” (Gabriel, The Prophecy)

Angels, eh? They’re a bloody nuisance. They’re not happy with being all immortal and that, they want control of Heaven too. That’s why there’s a ruddy big war up in the clouds, and that’s why some angels have come to Earth to try to find something that will gain them an advantage in their holy war.

Chad Kroeger was falling on hard times

As luck would have it, they’re both after the same thing – the soul of a dead colonel who was, by all accounts, a bit of a hard man and a complete prick, as most men who peel the faces off Chinese soldiers tend to be. The angels believe that with this soul, they can finally win the war in Heaven.

Good angel Simon finds the soul first, and hides it by placing it inside a little girl called Mary. Meanwhile, fallen angel Gabriel (Walken) is looking for it too and is perfectly willing to rip Mary apart to get it. It’s up to a police detective (Koteas) and Mary’s teacher (Madsen) to make sure that doesn’t happen. No wonder teachers strike for better wages.  Continue reading “The Prophecy (1995) review”

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

MICAH – “What if we just get this Ouija board and we find out what it wants and then we give it what it wants? Then it’s gone.”
PSYCHIC – “Because what it probably wants is Katie.”

You wake up in the middle of the night. In the darkness you can just about make out a black shadow standing at the door. It doesn’t move. It’s just standing there, watching you. You close your eyes but when you open them again the shadow is still there. In a panic, you slowly reach down to the side of your bed, being careful not to take your eye off the shadow, and grab your phone, turning it on. What little illumination it provides is just enough to dimly light the room and reveal… a coat, hanging from the door. Relieved, you lie back down again and close your eyes, but something lingers in your head that maybe, just maybe, the coat was a trick and the real monster is still quietly and invisibly watching over you.

The believable relationship between Katie and Micah helps the film's credibility

If you can relate to this sort of thing and have experienced similar moments before where you’ve nervously studied shapes in the dark to figure out what they are, then Paranormal Activity may quite frankly scare the shite out of you, despite what the “big men” say.

You know the sort of people I mean – the ones who pipe up any time The Exorcist is mentioned, just so they can sound tough and say “Exorcist? Ha, that wasn’t scary at all… in fact, I laughed all the way through it”. Deep down you know that either they’re lying, they didn’t allow themselves to get so emotionally involved with it or, as is increasingly likely these days, they didn’t watch it in the right conditions. And it’s the latter that’s crucially important when watching Paranormal Activity. But more on that later.  Continue reading “Paranormal Activity (2007)”

Exorcismus (2010)

Director: Manuel Carballo

Starring: Sophie Vavasseur, Stephen Billington, Richard Felix, Jo-Anne Stockham

“Don’t worry, God never abandons anything to evil.” (Chris, Exorcismus)

Typical bloody teenagers, eh? They mess around with their pals, they take drugs, they get possessed by the devil and try to kill their family members, they go to nightclubs… wait, hang on a tick. That doesn’t seem right.

Well, it’s certainly the case at least for 15-year-old Emma (the believable Sophie Vavasseur), who has started slipping into odd little episodes where she starts acting like a proper fanny then waking up and wondering what’s happened. Her parents take her to a psychiatrist but, suspiciously, he has a heart attack while having a session with her. Later she tries to kill her brother before snapping out of it and coming to her senses.

You might remember Sophie Vavasseur as the girl from Evelyn, starring Pierce Brosnan. Then again, you might not

Eventually, Emma starts to believe she may be possessed by the devil, so she finds her uncle – a priest who is conveniently known for having performed an exorcism previously – and tries to convince him to perform an exorcism on her. But is Emma really possessed by the devil, or is it all in her silly little teenage head?

Well, she is possessed. Sorry if that seems like I’m spoiling things, but the film doesn’t really keep you in suspense for too long either. In fact, it’s only about half an hour in when she starts levitating in front of her family, leaving the audience in no doubt that these aren’t just teenage mood swings she’s having.  Continue reading “Exorcismus (2010)”

The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen (2000)

Director: William Friedkin

Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller

“I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.” (Father Merrin, The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen)

(Note: if you haven’t read my review of The Exorcist yet, it may be best to check it out first.)

Although The Exorcist was a worldwide smash hit and remains Warner Bros’ highest-grossing film at the box office (after inflation), William Peter Blatty remained unsatisfied. As the author of the book on which the film was based he felt some key scenes had been dropped, scenes that would have given viewers the message he originally wanted to express.

William Friedkin, the film’s director, disagreed. He felt the film worked perfectly as it was and told Blatty he was being “a bad winner”, that they were both making a fortune on a hugely critically successful film and he should be happy with the recognition. The two fell out for a while because of this dispute.

"I told you to take your toys off the stairs, now look what's happened"

Time passed and Blatty and Friedkin resolved their differences and became friends again. Blatty still maintained that he wasn’t happy with parts of the film, in particular the ending, which he felt ended too ambiguously and left people leaving the cinema on a downer thinking the devil may have won. Friedkin remained unconvinced, and maintained that the film should stay untouched.

Some other subtle CGI effects (like this face morph) were added to the film

Eventually, around the time of the film’s 25th anniversary, Blatty persuaded Friedkin to dig out the unused footage from the film and put together a new cut of The Exorcist that more closely resembled Blatty’s original vision, a sort of ‘Writer’s Cut’. The result was released in cinemas in 2000 as The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen.

Despite Blatty’s original intention for the re-release, the most notable change in this new cut is the inclusion of the legendary ‘spider walk’ scene. This deleted scene, in which Regan flips upside-down and walks down the stairs like a spider, had been part of Exorcist lore for years with fans eager to see it as it was originally intended. The scene itself is pretty effective – here it is if you fancy a gander:

So, the spider walk aside, what else is in there? Well, the other main addition is of course the aforementioned alternative ending, which involves an extra scene at the end where Father Dyer and Lt Kinderman have a pleasant chat. This was the scene Blatty wanted to add to reassure the viewer that all was well with the world, and I could take it or leave it really.

There are also a few little trims and additions dotted here and there throughout the movie. Father Merrin has a few extra scenes with Chris MacNeil and Father Karras which flesh his character out a little, and there are some new digital effects where a demon’s face subliminally pops up from time to time.

Do these changes make The Version You’ve Never Seen a better movie than the original? Not necessarily, it just makes it a slightly different one that perhaps feels slightly more modern. Both versions are effective but if pushed I’d recommend you watch the spider scene above then just check out the original version of the film, since its more ambiguous ending leaves a greater feeling of unease.

The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin

Starring: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller

“Mother, what’s wrong with me?” (Regan, The Exorcist)

The Exorcist is not a horror film. At least, that’s what director William Friedkin, writer William Peter Blatty and Linda Blair, who played the possessed little girl in the film, would have you believe. According to them, it’s a drama about the mystery of faith that just happens to have disturbing scenes in it. Personally I’d chuck a stern “bullshit” at that theory, but it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that whatever genre or niche you try to place it in, The Exorcist remains one of the greatest films ever made.

The story’s well-known, but for those who’ve maybe managed to avoid it I’ll fill you in on the basics. Chris MacNeil (Burstyn) gets concerned when her little girl Regan starts showing some odd behaviour. She pees on the carpet, swears at doctors and starts playing with ouija boards. While this may be the normal sort of behaviour you’d expect from an Essex youth, for the well brought-up Regan it’s very uncharacteristic.

"You might want to run this under the tap first, it's been... um, used"

Doctors are unable to figure out what’s wrong with Regan and brain scans come back negative, suggesting she’s not suffering from any sort of mental illness. Meanwhile, Regan’s behaviour gets more and more shocking, culminating in her slapping her mother across the face and ramming her head into her crotch. Remember, not from Essex.

It soon emerges that Regan claims to be possessed by the devil so, at her wit’s end, Chris goes to a local priest and asks him to arrange an exorcism. After a bit of persuasion (mainly involving Regan masturbating with a crucifix and spinning her head 360 degrees), he decides to get in touch with Father Merrin, one of the few Jesuit priests who still perform the rare ritual. Can they drive the devil out of Regan? That would be telling.

Critics felt the latest Derren Brown show had gone a little too far

While its key moments have been parodied time and time again, spoofed by the likes of the Wayans brothers in Scary Movie 2, Leslie Nielsen in Repossessed and even a Danish bacon advert, The Exorcist still has the power to shock. This is mainly due to two things – the believable and realistic special effects and the superb performance by Linda Blair as Regan.

Regan is such a likeable, idyllic little girl at the start of the movie that when she descends into her possessed state and starts saying and doing the most outrageous things it’s all the more shocking. You find yourself siding with her mother as she tries to get help – you care about this once-sweet little girl’s well-being and you want her to overcome this demon who’s possessed her. Had Regan not been so easy to warm to at the start then the audience would have made less of an emotional investment in the movie.

"What do you mean you forgot to buy my fucking Clearasil? It's the one bloody thing I wanted from the shop"

The effects, many of which have only been recently explained, are the work of genius. These days it suffers from the “Beatles effect” – the genre has evolved so much over the years (in this case thanks to CGI) that it can be hard to appreciate the impact it made when it was first released, but at the time it was doing stuff on camera that had never been seen before and without a computer in sight.

The bed shaking was handled by building a bed, cutting a hole in the wall behind it and having a crew of men literally shake the bed from behind the set. The famous levitation scene (where Regan rises from her bed) was done with wires painted grey and white in a dash effect to confuse the eye and make them impossible to see in the film. The spinning head was a robotic dummy, the vomit scene was created with a mouth attachment that fired pea soup… all pieces of technical genius and all remarkably believable.

You could watch The Exorcist ten times and get something new out of it each time you watched it. Legendary critic Mark Kermode famously said he’s watched it over 200 times and it still feels new to him every time. There are so many subtle moments, so many nods to events that will happen later on, so many different ways to consider each scene and so many different interpretations you can give to its open ending that everyone will take away something different from the film. Religious viewers will see the fear in having their faith challenged, parents will see the fear in the helplessness Chris feels as her daughter succumbs.

Whoever you are and whatever your beliefs may be, you really have to see this film. It may terrify you beyond belief (though if you’re a hardened Saw addict it may not), but it’s one of the most important films in cinema and a landmark of the horror genre – whether or not the filmmakers believe it’s a part of it.