Haunted People Chapter 3 (Insidious Chapter 3, 2015)

Insidious_Chapter_3_PosterJames Wan has seen himself become increasingly in demand.  His regular collaborator is Leigh Whannell (who plays Specs in the series).  Whannell is the writer behind Wan’s Saw and the previous two Insidious films.  Adding the duty of first time director can be a risky proposition, though certainly not a new situation in horror franchises. Elise has proven a pretty popular character, and seeing as she met her demise in the first film, the creators kind of painted themselves in a corner.

The solution, of course, is to set this film in a time before Elise came back to help Dalton and his parents.  Set between her first meeting with Josh and the first film, Elise is now “retired”.

But a young woman asks for her help.  Quinn states she has tried contacting her dead mother.  Elise relents a little, trying to reach out, but when she realizes it is not Quinn’s mother, she is quick to end things.  But nothing has ended for Quinn.  After getting hit by a car, Quinn is stuck at home with her father and brother.  There is a growing dark threat in the house, and finally, after having exhausted his skepticism, her father Sean pleads with Elise to help free his daughter from this threat.

While there are some borderline silly moments (Elise has some action hero moments while in the spirit realm) the film stays pretty close to it’s predecessors. Visually, the spirits are every bit as unnerving and creepy.  The makeup and use of shadows shows Whannell to have learned a lot from his close work with Wan over the years.  The sound design is not quite as top notch as the prior two entries, but it is strong enough to keep the film’s identity as part of this franchise.

What we get with Chapter 3 is a well told scary story, built within the existing world of the Insidious films that feels very much a part of that world, allowing for a series that remains cohesive and largely enjoyable.

Haunted People Chapter 2 (Insidious Chapter 2, 2013)

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn the first film, it was established that part of what made young Dalton such an easy target was that his father had a similar experience with the same spirit as a boy.  Opening in the first film’s tragic aftermath, Insidious Chapter 2 jumps back to that story.

Younger Elise is helping Lorraine save her young son Josh from a frightening spiritual attack.  Here we are introduced to an associate of Elise’s named Carl. When the film picks back up in the present, Carl comes in to try and help the family finish what was started in the first film and save Josh.



The film gives us more background into the old woman (who turns out to not be a woman, but a serial killer who killed at the behest of his mother).  The ghosts and spirits are as visually striking as in the first film. The same year he released this film, he released the Conjuring.  Wan really knows what he is doing with his modernized ghost stories.  I really enjoy his sense of style and his commitment to the realities of his haunted cinematic worlds.  And again, the sound design is every bit as powerful in Chapter 2 as it was in the first film.

Chapter 2 flows pretty organically from the original film, avoiding a feel of being a tacked on sequel.  Wan is a solidly dependable horror creator, giving real life to a genre of horror that was somewhat stale.

Haunted People Chapter One (Insidious, 2010)

Insidious_PosterDirector James Wan made his name in horror with Saw, which launched a thousand torture themed horror films, though often made by less skilled people.  But in 2009, Wan found himself creating a more unique form of horror.  He accomplished this be exploring an older school of fright, the supernatural thriller.

Insidious tells the story of a young family, headed by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne.  Rose’s Renai is staying home with their young baby and she is the first to notice strange occurrences.  But they start to get more frightening, to the point of seeing things and hearing aggressive and angry voices. Josh (Wilson) is struggling at work, and coming home late, all the while thinking his wife is just unnerved by the new house.  But when their son Dalton falls into a coma, things get more desperate.  Josh’s mother steps in to help the couple, but she quickly comes to believe Renai.  They call in help from an old friend of the mothers, Elise.  Elise is a known psychic and has a paranormal support team.

It is revealed that the house is not haunted, rather Dalton is.  Dalton is able to astrally project himself.  Elise explains he has been likely able to do this so long, that it never scared him.  However, it leaves his physical body available and other spirits are trying to get back to his body by keeping Dalton from returning.

The film is visually striking, with a beautiful combination of old school gothic horror and modern scary monsters.  The primary two spirits attacking Dalton are an old woman with a long black dress and veil and an old school gargoyle type of demon who looks truly ghoulish.

Along with the visual designs of the ghosts and demons, the real star of the film is the sound design.  Much like Hitchcock, Wan gets how important timing of stings and the volume of your surroundings can play in frights.  The use of sound is near perfect in this film, with noises that can be emotionally unnerving.

The film has a good cast.  Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson provide some good humor to lighten the intense atmosphere, but not at the expense of seeming competent.  Wilson and Byrne are very sympathetic as the couple.  The standout is Lin Shaye. She has a warmth and kindness, but also a strength.  This is one of her best roles (and no surprise they keep bringing her back to the films).

Insidious is a solidly made modern horror film that pays homage to classic horror and ghost stories.

Day the World Ended (Demon With the Atomic Brain, 2017)

Mihm_Demon_Atomic_Brain_PosterChristopher R. Mihm’s latest film presents the possible end of the Mihmiverse.  A specially built computer has caused a rift in time and space that is threatening to destroy everything.  A team of military and specialists come together to try and stop it.

What happens next is an adventure through alternate futures, each one seeming more dangerous than the last.

The Demon With the Atomic Brain is one of Mihm’s most ambitious films in scope.  There are multiple set pieces.  It has several creatures and monsters and a decently large cast (which of course gets whittled down).  Both the animated monsters and the costume creations (by Mitch Gonzalez, who always makes fun and effective monsters for the Mihmiverse). There are these flying monsters where you can see the strings as they fly around.  Again, this is part of the low budget charm of Mihmiverse movies.

As always, the film has an authentic look to the era of the fifties.  This one has some splashes of color in each of the alternate futures.  It can be subtle, as they are heavily desaturated.  But it is very effective in giving a unique personality to each scene.

The actors are all very entertaining in their roles, effectively straddling that fine line of goofy delivery with sincerity.  Nobody feels like they are trying to act badly.  It is more that the dialog can fall into that sci-fi type of discussion that sounds less natural for most people.

The Demon with the Atomic Brain is a fun science fiction adventure with a unique identity (while paying homage to its inspirations).

Monkey Paws (Wish Upon, 2017)

Wish_Upon_PosterTrying to cope with the suicide of her mother, Clare and her father are just getting by.  Clare has few friends and is bullied in school.  Her father gives her an ornate box as a gift.  It turns out to be a supernatural force that grants her the wishes of her heart.

But each wish comes at a cost.  Something terrible will befall people in her life.  Often, this is a painful death.  She seeks help from Ryan, whose cousin is some sort of expert in ancient artifacts such as this.  But as Clare tries to outwit the box, she finds it harder to deny her intense desire to make things better for herself.  And when she tries to quit the box, her life seems to get worse, as if the box is goading her.

As interesting as the premise is, the film never builds effective tension.  It is pretty standard fare.  Neither completely terrible nor particularly good, it is a rather forgettable film.

Little Lake of Horrors (The Monster of Phantom Lake, the Musical!, 2016)

Mihm_Monster_Phantom_Musical_CoverYou know…if they were truly dedicated to authenticity, they would have painted everything and everyone in black and white.

But still…the story follows closely the film.  Scientists and teens encounter an angry swamp monster.  A swamp thing, if you will.

With Music and Lyrics by Adam Boll and directed by Mihmiverse Regular Michael Cook, the musical takes a fun and slightly lighter approach.  Not that the original film is heavy and dark, but adding songs adjusts the tone a bit.

Taking his queue from Mihm’s films, Boll composed songs specifically to evoke well-known musicals. There is a song in which the character Elizabeth is singing about her fears in which harkens back to the theme song of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt.  Another is reminiscent of Grease.  The songs are a lot of fun, filled with humor (and fans of the Mihmiverse will likely notice plenty of in jokes).

The performances are quite good and the full orchestra really gives everything a good punch.

The Puzzle (Jigsaw, 2017)

Jigsaw_PosterCan I be really honest?  I should have seen the twist in this film coming from a mile away.  Should have.  Didn’t, but having seen all the films?  Should have.  But didn’t.

Anyways, the film starts with a police chase. They are chasing two bit criminal Edgar who demands to see Detective Halloran. He threatens to “Start a Game”, and sets off a switch before being shot.

Meanwhile, five people wake up in a room chained to a wall.  They are told they need to make a sacrifice of blood.  One quick thinker figures it out and lets everyone else know what to do, allowing four to make it through. Everyone is scared, but clearly unsure what to do next.  They try and understand what they are supposed to confess.

As horribly mutilated bodies start to appear in public, coroners Logan and Elizabeth are brought in to try and determine what is happening.  The bodies have jigsaw puzzle pieces cut out of them and in the first bodies, they find a Zip drive.  It looks like the Jigsaw killings are starting back up.  Of course, the evidence seems to point to the real Jigsaw, John Kramer.  But everyone knows this to be impossible, as he died very publicly ten years ago.

Halloran suspects Logan and Elizabeth (Elizabeth, it turns out, is an obsessive fan of Jigsaw).  Elizabeth, Logan and Detective Hunt (Halloran’s partner) all suspect Halloran.

Meanwhile, the rapidly dropping victims are shown to have dark secrets to confess.  And as they reach each new situation, the group is whittled down to two people.  It turns out that one has the darkest secret of all.  Admittedly, the “trick” of the traps in this film is that, they could all survive if they just think about the situation.  This is especially true of the final two survivors confronted by Jigsaw. They literally could both get out alive.

Saw is a franchise that I never quite expected to take off.  And yet, it became a regular Halloween tradition for people.  But here is the thing, the films just get more and more convoluted.  This film tries to narrow it back down.  As the series progressed, a lot of the films, the victims were people who wronged Kramer.  This went against the message he seemed to by trying to impart in the first film.  I have often joked that the original Saw is the Atheist’s Se7en. The torture devices always give you a way to survive. The victims were people who had squandered their lives and were challenged to determine how much they valued their lives.

This got lost as the sequels piled up and we got copycats, apprentices to Kramer and highly elaborate revenge and other subplots.  This is not evening bringing up the increasingly wonky timeline.  Oh, wait, I brought that up.

And the films added in the concept of the Death Cult that dispenses justice, while breaking previously established rules (such as not killing innocent people as punishment to the bad person).  Jigsaw attempts to go back to basics, but really, Jigsaw’s lesson in this film is contradicted by the entire franchise.  The franchise left behind the “message” of the first film, and the eight film has zero chance of salvaging that.

Jigsaw is not the worst film in the franchise, and as I said, I always have liked Tobin Bell in this series.  But when you start breaking it down, the revelations are not particularly revelatory.  And the big reveals feel almost ho-hum.  At least it is only an hour and a half.


Deadly Dolly Begin Again (Annabelle: Creation, 2017)

Annabelle_Creation_PosterWhen they announced Annabelle: Creation, I really thought it was a complete start over, ignoring the previously released film which was…not as successful.  Since Annabelle was a prequel to the Conjuring (of a sorts) I had not expected a prequel to the prequel.  But Annabelle: Creation is connected to it’s predecessor.

Opening in 1943, we meet Doll maker Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther.  They adore their young daughter Bee.  When she is killed in a tragic accident they are broken hearted.  The film jumps ahead twelve years and the Mullins have opened their home up to a Nun and several orphan girls.  Samuel still seems a broken man, and explains his wife is unable to get around much, due to an accident years before.  There is one rule given by Samuel, to avoid a certain room.

But curiosity gets the best of young Janice, who opens the door to discover a doll sitting in a chair. This soon results in all sorts of strange events, sitings and soon Janice claims to be seeing the ghost of Bee.  Things escalate into a frightening fight for survival by the young girls and their nun.

Annabelle: Creation is a marked improvement for this part of the Conjuring Universe.  The rural setting creates an eerie sense of isolation that has a lot of impact.  There are plenty of jumps and legit scares in the film.  The demon tied to the doll is a classic demon you might see in a cathedral painting, which is fitting with the Christianity themed spirituality.  The Mullins are a tragic couple who we discover were so overcome in their grief, they allowed darker spiritual forces into their home and paid a terrifying price.

Bucket of Blood (Weresquito: Nazi Hunter, 2016)

Mihm_Weresquito_CoverDuring World War II Cpl. John Baker is captured and experimented on by the deviant Nazi scientist Schramm.  He was saved by the Allied forces, but he is forever changed.  When he sees blood, he is transformed into the human-mosquito, or rather the Weresquito.  He is on a mission to find Nazis (and specifically Schramm) who are hiding out in America.

His search has unexpected complications as he starts to fall for Schramm’s niece (who is unaware of her uncle’s dark past).

Weresquito is one of those high-concept ideas that feels like it would have been at home in the late fifties.  It is promoted as being in Plaz-Mo-Scope which evokes, of course, the gimmicks of the era.  What this means is that anytime we see blood, it is red, and the only color in the entire film.  This makes for a neat effect.  If you have ever seen the horror film Popcorn, this film feels like it could have been one of the “fake fifties films” they made for that movie.

The performances are good (and James Norgard is clearly having fun going over the top as Schramm). The Weresquito himself is a great monster visually.  Listen, if you want to see Nazis get their blood sucked out by a man-sized mosquito (and I think you are lying if you say you do not)? This is your film!


Deadly Dolly (Annabelle, 2014)

Annabelle_PosterAnnabelle was a creepy doll introduced in James Wan’s the Conjuring. Based on a case file from Ed and Lorraine Warren, Annabelle is a doll possessed of a demon.  The Warrens have her locked in a glass case to this day.  Now, the film made some changes.  The real Annabelle doll is a Raggedy Ann doll.  Wan opted for an old fashioned hand made porcelain doll look, and it is very, very creepy.

The doll proved popular with audiences and the producers decided to move forward with an “origin” story for Annabelle. Mia and John are expectant parents. John surprises Mia with the Annabelle doll, a doll she has been looking for for a long time.

One night they face a home invasion by satanists.  In a violent confrontation, both invaders are killed.  Soon, there are mysterious happenings and new mother Mia finds herself having frightening visions. John gets rid of the doll right before they move, but when unpacking in the new apartment, they find Annabelle in a box.

With help from both their local priest and  a psychic, the couple try and rid themselves of the doll and it’s demon. The film lacks Wan’s touch, and while the Annabelle doll looks as creepy as ever, the stakes never feel all that high.  This is in spite of the fact that we are dealing with evil trying to tear apart a family.  Without the anchors of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the film feels lost.

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