Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. Happy Birthday to AICN HORROR which celebrates its fourth year in October! Always hoping to pass on new and exciting films for all of you ravenous readers, I have once again compiled a list counting down to my favorite horror film released since last October and covered in this here AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Some of these films might be new to you since there isn’t a lot of horror in theaters these days that aren’t toothless remakes or watered down sequels. Theaters just don’t seem to be the place where the horror is at these days, I’m sad to say. Some of these films have only seen the light of day on Video on Demand or simply go straight to DVD/BluRay pr digital download.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year since October 1st , 2012 (which happens to be the birthday of this little column four years ago!) and worked and reworked a list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each column for those who can’t get enough horror which may include films that almost made the list or goodies from the past I’ve covered.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know how you liked the film I chose, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
Probably the most mainstream of my choices in this year’s countdown doesn’t take away from the fact that James Wan’s haunted house flick, THE CONJURING isn’t an effective film. Though it’s not perfect, it is about as perfect a mainstream horror film can get and feels like a natural predecessor of POLTERGEIST.
THE CONJURING (2013)Directed by James Wan
Written by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Starring Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga,Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
If you’re a horror fan like me, who saw TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 or DAY OF THE DEAD in theaters, you know those days are long gone. You’re not going to see those types of films in theaters any more and if you’re looking for the hard scares, over the top gore, and ideas which shred the nerves while making you think, you’ve got to go to VOD or DVD or digital download these days. Still, quality horror can sometimes be achieved in big budget theatrical horror releases. It’s just that in order to make it to wide release, it seems, the film has to be a sequel or a remake or at the very least, play it sort of safe. The safe way meaning basically follow a certain formula; scares about every four to five minutes, loud music blast at every jump scare, you know the deal. While THE CONJURING follows this formula, I can’t knock it too much because it follows this formula well and ends up being pretty damn effective in the end.
Upon watching the trailer for THE CONJURING, I wondered why Wan was doing something which felt a whole lot like INSIDIOUS 2 (which we’ll all be seeing later this summer). Seeing Lily Taylor roam around the house following ghostly clapping hands was an effective trailer, causing the right amount of chills and thrills, but still, I found myself asking “Really? Another James Wan haunted house flick?” So for me, the real challenge for this movie was to convince me how different THE CONJURING was from INSIDIOUS. Thankfully, James Wan does just that.
The film begins mid-case as Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga (who play real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in the film) interview a trio of college kids who profess that the doll sitting in the chair at the end of the table is possessed by a spirit. Cue moody flashback as we see an example of the haunting and it is really scary. The scares here are mainly psychological with not a drop of blood shed. Instead, taking cues from every scary doll film from MAGIC, to THE DOLL episode from NIGHT GALLERY, to CHILD’S PLAY, to POLTERGEIST, Wan cleverly architects a sequence which really is bone chilling. Though we don’t see the doll move, Wan is able to scare us with sound, some well scripted dialog, and some clever edits. Oh, and also, the doll, named Annabelle, is pretty damn creepy too.
We are then introduced to the central family of the film, the Perrons with patriarch Roger (Ron Livingston), Lili Taylor playing Carolyn his loving wife, and a gaggle of little girls varying from around 6 to late teens. Everything about this family is typical as indicated by your typical clichéd family time music “Time of the Season” by the Zombies. They play innocent games. Watch THE BRADY BUNCH. And even have a friendly dog (who won’t set foot in the house). Having just bought a big old house, the Perrons begin unpacking and making the house a home, but right off the bat weird things start happening. A secret walled in cellar is found. The clocks stop at 3:07. Doors creak and pictures fall off walls. When you think of a haunted house flick, you think of certain things and it all happens in the first 30-40 minutes of this film. Did I mention the word typical? Well, everything in this first part is just that.
But instead of having the demonologists show up on the doorstep like Father Merrin, Wan throws us a curve ball by making this a two pronged story, which immediately makes things less typical and more interesting to me. By alternating the narrative between that of the Perrons and the Warrens who have a daughter themselves, Wan doubles down on the danger level and makes us wonder which family and which house if going to be the site of the haunting next. By establishing the Warrens’ home as basically a storage closet for haunted items they’ve collected from past cases, Wan immediately establishes the home as a powder keg just waiting for a spark. He’s also given this keg a long fuse and just when you’ve become so invested in the action at the Perron home, he reminds you of the danger back at the Warren place. By splitting the locales, the danger would be that it might dilute the horror, but the ingenuity of the script intensifies our investment in both places instead of splitting it. This is mainly due to four great performances.
The heads of both families are so likable, it hurts. Unlike THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (which this movie owes a lot too), Ron Livingston’s Roger is not shown in a negative light, open for possession and ready to abuse at a whim like James Brolin or Ryan Reynolds. He’s a nice guy who genuinely cares for his family. Same goes for Lily Taylor’s Carolyn, who albeit in her own weird and wispy way, seems to be a loving mother stressed by taking care of five girls and moving into a new house. Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga’s Ed and Lorraine are good parents as well, though overly dedicated to helping others and selfless to a fault, which ultimately puts their family at risk as they try to save the Perrons, leaving their daughter at home. Usually, good means boring, but it’s a testament to these actors’ skill that they are able to make these characters likable despite their squeaky-cleanness.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, Wan and the writers Chad and Carey Hayes keep the action moving with scares happening almost to the second at every five minutes. This is a gimme in studio horror these days and I can’t fault the film for it. In fact, if done right, it can make for a pretty thrilling, roller coaster-like experience. And in THE CONJURING, for the most part, it’s done right. Sure, after an hour of this, the scares get a bit predictable, but because each of the scares are actually pretty creative in their jump accompanied by a headbutt to the keyboard, it all works. The images Wan shows are actually pretty scary, from the ghosts only certain people see to the face of that scary ass doll. All of them worked on me, making my spine tingle and giving me a start pretty much the whole way through.
THE CONJURING’s faults lay in the spoon feeding of info to folks in the form of classroom teachings of the Warrens as they lecture college kids on demonology. This info dump early on in the film slows down the narrative and basically maps out the rest of the film to the beat. I understand Hollywood’s believes the viewers to be dolts, but when rest of the movie is written on a chalkboard thirty minutes into the film, it starts feeling downright insulting. With the ingenuity put into the scares in this film, I wish the filmmakers would have had some faith that our interest would have been sustained without a catch-up and game plan etched out for us all to read in big white letters.
That said, the problems in the latter half of INSIDIOUS where the filmmakers obviously ran out of money and ideas is not present in THE CONJURING. This is a much stronger film and it feels as if, unsatisfied with the way INSIDIOUS turned out, Wan decided to go back and do it right this time around. Pretty much the whole way through, the film is able to maintain a level of energy and fear that few films of its kind are able to sustain. Wan even somehow makes the tried and true exorcism scene feel fresh with its execution and how it adheres to both plot and character advancement. Sure, they are easy thrills and chills, but dammit if Wan didn’t get the best of me again this time around with THE CONJURING. If you’re looking for a big budget horror, Wan continues to deliver the goods. With a strong cast, some truly chilling imagery and a rapid inundation of jolting sights and sounds, THE CONJURING is mainstream horror done right.
Today’s honorable mention is a modern take on a classic tale. AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (full review here) is a little film which proved to be surprisingly effective in its use of the ghost under the sheet routine we all did as children. Though in concept it is a goofy one, I was shocked at how many times I jumped at this film. Check it out if you’re looking for well done old school scares.
Find it on Netflix here and check out the trailer below!
The Countdown so far…Number 31: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D!
Number 30: DEVIL’S PASS!
Number 29: THE RAMBLER!
Number 28: THE AMERICAN SCREAM!
Number 27: BATH SALT ZOMBIES!
Number 26: MANBORG!
Number 25: ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY!
Number 24: SIGHTSEERS!
Number 23: ABC’S OF DEATH!
Number 22: THE LAST WILL & TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH!
Number 21: I DIDN’T COME HERE TO DIE!
See ya tomorrow, folks, as the count down continues with the best of the best covered in AICN HORROR over the past year!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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