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Plagued (2013): At Last, Someone Found a Reason to Visit Missouri

Better Hero Army, Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment (Storyteller Press, 2013)

Plagued

If every zombie looked like that, would anyone actually MIND the apocalypse? photo credit: Amazon

First off: if you’re going to use a pseudonym, at least make it sound like a human being’s name. Otherwise, you might find yourself releasing books under a name like Bolaji Worldstar77. Or Sunshine 44. Or Better Hero Army.

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The Conjuring 2 (2016): If You Don’t Shift This Crate of Brillo Pads by Friday, Vengeance Will Be Mine

The Conjuring 2 (James Wan, 2016)

conjuring2

They’re baaaaaaaaaaack… photo credit: movie-list.com

There’s a scene in The Conjuring 2—very early on in the movie, so this isn’t a spoiler of any sort—that really drives home how important cinematography is to an effective horror film. It starts with Billy Hodgson (Benjamin Haigh in his feature debut) has just gone downstairs to get a glass of water, and is sleepily on his way back up to bed. When he gets to the second floor, he stubs his toe on one of his toy fire trucks. After turning off the annoying light and sound features, he nudges it with his foot so it rolls into the tent he has erected in an alcove just at the top of the stairs. He stumbles back to his room. The camera moves with him, and the tent is always in the background. He almost gets there when there’s a sound of grinding metal, which we know is the sound the fire truck makes when it rolls across the floor, and the sirens go off very briefly—less than a second. He pauses for a moment, decides he must have been hearing things, and keeps on back to bed. As he’s getting ready, we can see a small portion of the tent through the doorway. The bottom of what we can see is about waist-high, so if you know anything at all about horror films, you’re expecting something to come bursting out of that tent. Instead, we hear the lights and sirens again, and cinematographer Don Burgess cuts to the bottom of the doorframe just as the fire truck comes rolling slowly up to the doorjamb. It’s just a beautifully shot scene, playing with the audience’s expectations and demolishing them at every turn, and it sets up the viewer to expect that this is not going to be your average horror film, at least not from the DP’s perspective. (If you search “conjuring 2 fire engine” on YouTube, you’ll find the sequence that happens just after this.)

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Inner Demons (2014): I’m Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Inner Demons (2014): I’m Gonna Try for the Kingdom if I Can

Inner Demons (Seth Grossman, 2014)

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Group Scare-apy. photo credit: roger-ebert.com (anyone surprised they hated it?)

I will start off with the film’s two biggest flaws, for those of you who want an excuse to get out of this review early. First, yes, the mockumentary/found-footage horror movie is as played-out as calling pocket aces with deuce-seven offsuit because you have a 32% chance of cracking them. And, perhaps even more appalling, yes, this movie’s scares depend on a plot hole big enough that you can drive a semi through it. So those of you who can’t get past those things, I will let you leave class early.

[pause]

…and now the rest of you are going to hear about the first movie that has actually scared me enough to sleep with a light on since Paranormal Activity 2 (and, for the record, the fifth movie to ever do so; the other three, and take all the time you like to wonder about me, but remember how old I was when the first one came out, were Beware! The Blob, Pet Sematary, and Candyman). Like I said, they rely on a massive plot hole, which I will get to in a second. But when you are confronted with “scrap this footage because of a plothole” vs. “scare the shit out of your audience”, a lot of directors since Alexandre Aja are going to do the latter. And I am here to tell you, when it comes to the scare factor, Inner Demons blows Haute Tension so far out of the water it might be an extra in Sharknado 3.

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We Are Still Here (2015): House Gruetiful

We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, 2015)

[note: originally written 23Sep2015]

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All the modern conveniences, but still has that old world charm. photo credit: hellhorror.com

Ted Geoghegan got his start working with people like Andreas Schnaas (on Demonium and Nikos the Impaler) and Timo Rose (in Geoghegan’s defense, Barricade, the Rose movie he wrote, is some of Rose’s best work, not that that’s setting the bar too high), then went on to script the confusing, aimless Sweatshop. But at least Sweatshop looked good, even if it suffered from that same confusion and aimlessness. Given all that, one could be forgive for going into We Are Still Here, Geoghegan’s debut big-screen feature, with lowered expectations. And you should go ahead and do so, for that will make this atmospheric, slow-burn ghost story all that much more a pleasant surprise.

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Zoo (1993): So Far, So Good

Otsuichi, Zoo (Haikasoru, 1993)

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Don’t feed the animals. photo credit: cdon.se

I first encountered the work of Hirotaka Adachi, who writes under the pen name Otsuichi (I have no idea if this is what he meant choosing it, but amusingly, one of the possible translations of his pen name is “first second”), when I saw the screen adaptation of his novel Goth a couple of years ago. While the movie was problematic, it was interesting, and I decided I’d try to hunt down some of his writing. The first thing I picked up was Zoo. And boy, can this guy write. (And boy, can that other guy translate.)

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Lights Out (2016): We’re the Only Ones Left on the Floor

Lights Out (David F. Sandberg, 2016)

Lights-Out-Poster

I actually totally did that a few times when I was in high school and my parents wouldn’t shut up about energy conservation. Photo credit: blackfilm.com

When this started getting buzz at one point last year, I checked YouTube for the original short, and indeed, there it was. I absolutely adored it, and got excited for this immediately. I’m pretty fond of the whole “awesome short horror film gets a feature length treatment” thing, and I am a huge fan of a couple of them (Dumplings and Grace both impressed me far more than I was expecting), so I went into Lights Out with pretty high expectations. And while it wasn’t a surprise, I was quite happy with the result.

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The Devils (1971): You Have Been Found Guilty of Covenants with the Devil

The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

The movie poster.

I feel as though my heart has been touched by Christ. photo credit: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

N.B.: This is more of an essay than a review, and as such, some of what is contained herein could be considered spoilers. If that sort of thing offends you, enter at your own risk.

Spoiler Alert!

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