Category Archives: supernatural

Review: Candyman (1992)

Theatrical Release Poster

As a child nothing scared me more than “Bloody Mary.” I was only in elementary school when I heard the tale, and the “true stories” of the awful bloody things that happened to their second-cousins-brother’s friend (you know what I’m talking about) , and I promised myself I would never play the game. Even now as an adult, I respect that oath out of the fear of what could happen. After watching Bernard Rose’s supernatural-slasher, Candyman, I have one more name to add to the list of names never to utter in front of any mirror.

The story follows a pair of graduate students, Helen (Virginia Madsen) and Bernie (Kasi Lemmons) as they write their thesis on urban myths. As luck would have it, the Cabrini-Green housing project near them , has experienced a death, supposedly at the hands of the urban myth, Candyman. A murder and a community believing in that the murder was caused by a spirit? That sounds like the perfect location for students writing about urban myths and Helen quickly springs into action learning all about Candyman. Like Mary, he can be summoned by anyone who chants his name 5 times in front of a mirror. Upon being summoned he will brutally eviscerate the one who dared to summon him. Helen, being a firm non-believer, treats the rumor as a myth and proceeds through with the ritual. What follows is a tightly knit tale about gender, race, gentrification, and the mystical nature of belief.

What helps the story work is how real it feels. The community at Cabrini-Green aren’t caricatures of our worst fears of what the “hood” is. They’re heterogeneous and breathe life into a community that gets demonized, not only in the movie, but in real life as well. The shocking reality of social imbalances set in, and the way that characters react and approach different situations highlights those fears. When the cleaning ladies talk about how Ruthie Jean called the police twice about someone coming for her she gets ignored. It’s palpable and reveals just how warped the system has become. Violence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a community when they’re arbitrarily relegated to the periphery for no other reason than their skin color.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Helen, a young white women, and Bernie, a young black women going into a black community was magnificent. They respond to different scenarios in ways to highlight not only character differences, but also social differences. When they enter the downtrodden community, Helen’s primary concern is finding information about the myth, while Bernie scared for her life. The whole way their first interaction plays out during this act only amplifies the way their positions change the way they think about themselves and what can/cannot happen to them. This becomes even more interesting when Helen goes through multiple revelations that complicate her relation to both the community and the legend of Candyman.

Speaking of Helen, Virginia’s performance is nuanced and emotionally resounding. The long reaction shots on her eyes help convey the depth of her emotional state. She goes from confident, to resourceful, to mystified, to paranoid, and so on. At no point do any of these shifts feel out of place or odd. They all feel authentic and make emotional beats in the story feel that much more poignant. After doing some background reading, I appreciated the extra effort she put in. For certain scenes, she actually let herself get hypnotized so that she would look dazed and mystified. Although, after witnessing Tony Todd’s performance as Candyman, and hearing his authoritative but hypnotic voice, I could see how someone could be entranced by him. But make no mistake, he is sinister.

The film is also shot well. The use of long pan transition shots makes the dread feel like it’s moving along. But the most interesting thing the movie does is insert stills constantly. Iconic images from the movie appear at key moments. They don’t feel intrusive, but are provocative and help foreshadow the meaning and metaphysical positions of key characters.

Rating

TLDR: Candyman, is a well-woven tale that analyzes multiple pressing social issues without ever feeling preachy or patronizing. It’s provocative and aesthetically haunting.

Final Rating: 10/10. Anyone who wants to experience a beautiful commentary on social positions/issues while also being scary, in a more visceral way should watch this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: In the Mouth of Madness

Theatrical Release Poster

After finishing John Carpenter’s cult classic, In the Mouth of Madness, I was left genuinely speechless. Typing out this review is hard, because I can still feel the impact of what I’ve seen and the brilliance put on display. I genuinely don’t want to spoil anything so the review itself will be fairly sparse. I’ll have a more detailed piece about the movie when I get to watch it again and really get down into it.

The plot follows John Trent (Sam Neil) and Linda Styles, a who’s tasked with finding and retrieving Sutter Cane(J├╝rgen Prochnow ), a famous horror novelist and/or the manuscript to his latest novel. As they travel to his supposed location, their sense of reality becomes more warped and twisted, causing them and the audience to ask what’s genuinely going on.

Cinematography here really amplifies the paranoia and highlights the presence of dark and supernatural aspects. In particular, during a driving scene, the presence of pitch black helps set the scene. I felt unnerved, but more importantly my senses were heightened, paying even more attention to anything that cut the dark. The strange and uncomfortable nature of the visual design and special effects make the viewing experience not only nightmarish, but creates a cerebral experience. I was left constantly asking questions. To some that may be an issue- the film requires you give it time and take in what’s happening- the mystical and transgressive nature of it- without trying to rationalize it.

Sam Neil’s performance really helps sell the absurdity of the phenomena happening on the screen. He’s always calm and cool, exhibiting a sense of rationality and poise at at the disturbing events happening around him. This helps the audience stay guessing. The underlying skepticism makes us question the “true” reality of what’s going on which only helps the movie thematically hit us with it’s Lovecraftian vibes.

The last 15 minutes of the movie had me constantly going “My God”, “No way”, or some variation/combination of the same. I can count on one hand how many movies have made me feel that way.

Rating

TLDR: In the Mouth of Madness, is a thought provoking cerebral masterpiece, that will have you questioning your grasp on reality.

Final Rating: 10/10. 10’s are already rare. This is one of the few movies I’d rate higher if I could. I know I’ll go back and re-watch this movie- mainly because the third act necessitates it.

Watch this movie if you enjoy Lovecraft or you enjoy movies that force you to think- where the fear comes from the implication of what’s being suggested more than the (still scary) visual phenomena.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The House of the Devil

Director(s)Ti West
Principal CastJocelin Donahue as Samantha Hughes
Greta Gerwig as Megan
Tom Noonan as Mr.Ulman
Mary Woronov as Mrs.Ulman
Release Date2009
Language(s)English
Running Time 95 minutes

Ti West’s 2009 supernatural movie, The House of the Devil ,is a beautifully crafted love letter to 70’s and 80’s horror films. It follows the tale of a Samantha, a college girl who ends up taking a babysitting job for an elderly couple. Here’s the catch- there’s no baby. Instead, upon arriving at the location, she learns she’s to look after the elderly mother of the wife. From there, we descend into a slow burn of paranoia and tension as we watch our unsuspecting “babysitter” reckon with the terrors of the night.

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, watching stuff like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, two excellent films that have me genuinely scared even now. What West is able to do with his precise use of lighting, sound, and camera technique wonderfully recreates the moods and feelings the above and similar pieces have. We constantly get gorgeous outside wide shots, or corner shots that make us feel on edge and in turn amplifies the tension. There were multiple times where the camera angle frames Samantha as prey, that’s being watched. The sound comes in and out of the background to the foreground creating a a sense of intensity and helps foreshadow future events based on how the music switches. The lighting is also stellar. It feels like an older movie, and the darker scenes are great at building anticipation up.

Jocelin, as Samantha, carried so much of the movie. The way she responded to a lot of the situations felt understandable and helped progress the movie to its eventual climax. She manages to portray a real sense of urgency which also helps justify some of the more questionable decisions. It helps the movie from feeling too absurd or campy.

However, I do think that the first two acts are a real slow burn. Personally, I love a good slow burn. If the payoff or the meaning of the movie are made more impactful, then I don’t mind or in some cases genuinely appreciate the same. I know that might put others off. But in the case of this movie, the third act payoff is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I literally could not believe how great and climactic it feels. The cinematography becomes a lot more alive and dynamic here which really amplifies the feeling. I was waiting for so long for a payoff, and boy was it worth it.

The only real problems I had with the movie were some of the dumb character decisions and cliches. I think the movie wants us to kind of gloss over them and just accept them for what they are and enjoy the ride. For the most part I was able to, but at some points it really became a “what is happening?” moment. Some of the cliches also become more tongue in cheek because the movie almost points them out and “gets in” on the joke. This definitely helped me just ease off of nitpicking and just enjoying the ride.

Report Card

TLDR The House of the Devil is a phenomenal movie that demonstrates some of the best craftsmanship I’ve seen in terms of set design and presentation. It might feel campy or cliched to you in some places, but if you can get past those moments and stay patient, you’re in for a great ride.If you like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby ,or movies like those I’d give this a solid go. Fans of slow burn suspense movies that love big climactic endings should also give it a try.
Rating9.2/10
GradeA

Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Theatrical Release Poster

The moment I saw Diane’s(JoBeth William) reaction to the initial infestation of the haunting/poltergeist infestation, I knew I was in for a different supernatural movie experience. Tobe Hooper’s, Poltergeist, follows a suburban American family as their house is taken over by outside spirits. Though the haunting/infestation starts off as innocuous furniture re-arrangements, it quickly descends into a nightmare, as the family struggles to deal with make it through the ordeal

The first thing I really loved was how early on in the film the haunting is set up and its consequences foreshadowed. For example, the opening scene opens up on a television set playing the American anthem. The camera starts zooming into the TV, as the screen starts flickering. The focus on the flicker in the blue light highlights the association between a boundary flickering on and off, and is commonly used to amp up the tension of scenes or to highlight the absolute presence of the paranormal.

There also seems to be a critique of violence and appearances. As the first act continues to unfold, we see Carol Anne (played by Heather O’Rourke), watching a blank flickering screen. A scene exemplifying this that stuck out in my head occurred when Diane sees her Carol Anne watching a blank screen, calls it bad for her daughters eyes, then switches the channel to a war movie with violence on the screen. It felt like foreshadowing, as though Carol Anne would think something bad was good for her. But more importantly, it felt like a critique of how normalized violence can be. Diane immediately also turns away from the television, signalling she may not have seen what she put on for her daughter or know what the content was. This felt like a criticism of assuming the safety of common procedures- like sometimes the seemingly innocent, might have a malevolent undercurrent.

Effects wise, the movie is gorgeous. Some of the special effects seem corny now, but I’d assume they looked a lot scarier back at the release date. However, this only happens a few times. For the most part, some of the visual scares were downright disturbing. They looked real and alive, as though they actually came from some demonic realm.

Most of the problems I had with the movie stem from some early characterization which may or may not be unfair. I felt like some of the actions the characters took felt out of place with the events unfolding, but thankfully these moments were few and far between.

Rating

TLDR: Poltergeist was a beautiful film with great visual effects and an well-developed and fleshed out exploration of a family dealing with the unimaginable.

Final Rating: 9/10. This seminal work deserves a watch from crowds old and young. There’s something in it for everyone and no matter how scared or not scared you are by the end, you’ll have been entertained.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!