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HOUSE is a bad trip caught on film

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The 70′s…yeah, what else needs to be said? A decade filled with outstanding art, music, cinema and most importantly Horror. The Exorcist, Halloween, The Omen and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre carved an indelible mark into the psyche of the youngin’s brave enough to watch and some adults too. But during this Renaissance there was something far more sinister and down right trippy occurring in other parts of the world. A film, equally as dynamic and perhaps a little insane, nobuhiko-obayashi-vagabond-of-timewas destroying the screens in Japan and disturbing a lot of young minds.

House directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and produced by TOHO, is a simple story about a girl and her friends, who visit’s her ailing aunt in the remote countryside of Japan, only to discover her aunt is a witch that allows her home to devour the girls one by one.

Seems simple enough, until you watch it.

The film’s pace and look is spastic and often times incoherent, but it makes for some good viewing…you will not be bored. Nobuhiko Obayashi incorporates techniques that were used by famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. Fake skies, A B rolls, confusing soundtracks and crazy edits, gets served up every second in this film. House_115.psdKind of like  a cartoon, all the character’s are larger than life, with names that are as silly as some of the scenes. The lead girl’s name is Gorgeous  (the pretty one), which is probably just a translation issue. She’s followed by Prof (the smart one), Kung Fu (the bad ass), Mac (The fat one, but she isn’t fat at all), Melody (the piano player), Fantasy (Whatever) and Sweet (….). These seemingly naive girls, accompany Gorgeous to her aunts house for a summer getaway, but things get crazy when Mac suddenly disappears. How we find out what happened to Mac is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on film. One of the girls goes looking for her and decides to check the well…she begins pulling the rope expecting to see a watermelon, they had tethered to it earlier to keep it cool, since the house lacks a fridge, she instead finds Mac’s “still moving head”. The head, now an eerie blue color and clearly green screened, flies out of the girls hand and bites her on the ass. From that moment on, I knew I must watch this whole film. Thinking that that might be it for the “craziness”, I was met with an onslaught of images throughout the film that had me thinking that if I was on acid while watching this, this wouldn’t be good, but I was able to distance myself from the “not so disturbing as much as it was psychotic” story.

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Half way through the film it became a test of endurance. My mind struggled to figure out what was Nobuhiko Obayashi inspiration for some of these scenes. What did they mean? Were they metaphors or was he just trying to be as crazy as possible? If I had read this script, I probably would’ve ran from it, given the confusing pace. But for all my misgivings, it’s a thought out picture and although Obayashi never used a storyboard and there was apart of me that thought he could be making this shit up as he went along, it was perfect in it’s execution, but not everybody shared the same sentiment about Nobuhiko Obayashi vision including Obayashi.

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(via. Wiki)

Obayashi described the attitude on the set as very upbeat as he often skipped, sang and played quiz games with the younger actresses on the set. Despite having fun on the set, members of the Toho crew felt the film was nonsense.Obayashi found the acting of the seven girls to be poor while trying to direct them verbally. He began playing the film’s soundtrack on set, which changed the way the girls were acting in the film as they got into the spirit of the music.

In the end, the rawness and amateur nature of the film works to it’s benefit. You use what you have to create magic, and Obayashi used his skills in commercials to litter this film with intentionally cheesy effects to give the horror a child-like feel. Whether inspired or completely original, there’s no denying HOUSE’S creativity and ability to engage and to think we may not have ever seen it unless Janus Films decided to buy the rights to the film and redistribute it in 2010. Since then, HOUSE is popular amongst a whole new audience of crazies looking for a something from the heart.

(Via. Criterion.com)

How did Janus Films begin the process of bringing House to U.S. theaters for the first time?

House was originally brought into the Janus library as a possible Eclipse title, when Eclipse was conceived of as a possible subsidiary label for cult films. That changed, of course, and the film remained in limbo until we began to get a few screening requests from genre-savvy venues. It can be tough to convince theaters to book a repertory title that doesnt have an established critical reputation, so we hadnt originally thought of House as a theatrical release. It has developed a fair-size reputation on the gray market, where its been a staple for some time, but its such a blast to see with an audience that we did a small digital microtour in order to spread word of mouth. These screenings were successful beyond our expectations; we had two raucous, sold-out shows at the New York Asian Film Festival, and the film seems to have developed a cult-within-a-cult in every city it’s played.

You can purchase house now on DVD or Blu-Ray  through the Criterion Collection

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Beyond The Black Rainbow is true 80′s horror

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Originally I had intended to watch this movie at a local art house theater, but I saw that it was available on Amazon on Demand, so I decided to enjoy the movie in bed with my wife, dog and laptop. What you notice immediately about Beyond The Black Rainbow is that it draws heavily upon the 80′s science fiction horror aesthetic. It’s easy to see why it has been compared to such films as THX 1138, A Clockwork Orange, The Hunger and pretty much all the works of David Cronenberg, but not to be caught up in the smoke and mirrors there still has to be a good story…right? Searching for a viable plot in such artistry can sometimes be a daunting task, but you soon realize that the formula is the same, but it’s just being presented like a sarcophagus at a museum or vestige of some by-gone era that the director Panos Cosmatos (son of George P. Cosmatos, who directed Tombstone, Cobra, and Rambo: First Blood Part II) has meticulously decided to pay homage to. BTBR speaks in metaphors, the viewer is meant to take something from every single frame, the director even goes as far as beginning these super short scenes with fade in and outs of the grittiest red instead of the usual black.

Right now’s when you’d probably like for me to explain what the fuck this film’s about…

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Deep within the mysterious Arboria Institute, a beautiful girl (Eva Allan) is held captive by a scientist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Her mind is controlled by a sinister technology (a mysterious pyramid-shaped light). Speechlessly, she waits for her next session with the deranged Dr. Nyle. She escapes her cell under the watchful eye of Dr. Nyle peering through video monitors. She journeys through the darkest reaches of the Institute but Nyle wonʼt easily part with his most gifted and dangerous creation.

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It all makes for some amazing vintage horror done with a committed cast and one hell of an art director Antonio Colin and costume designer Kathi Moore. Shot entirely in Vancouver, the story travels along an analog path of science verging on insanity. As we learn more about the Arboria Institute we find out about or at least we think we find out about what the institutes real mission is and that’s when BTBR begins tinkering with the idea of the occult and going places with the storyline that all good 80′s horrors can’t do without. Like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychedelic masterpiece Holy Mountain, BTBR toys, ever so slightly, with god/devil themes in the form of glowing masonic style triangles and the Sentionauts (ominous albino baby faced worker bees or minions for the Arboria Institute) but doesn’t try to be what it’s not thus elevating the films level of genius by acknowledging the Satanic prime directive and moving on. It has to be said before I continue that the soundtrack is near flawless. Panos obviously knew that if the image was the vehicle the music had to be the engine so he did what any film/indie video director does and enlist the help of none other than Jeremy Schimdt from the synth rock band Black Mountain to pepper this art piece in a blanket of moogness, add that sound to the brilliant cinematography of Norm Li and you have a film fit for any classic VHS library.

The following Interview with Panos Cosmatos in it’s entirety is available @ Dork Shelf

DS: How involved were you with the score because it felt so integral to the mood and tone? I’d imagine it was something you wanted to be heavily involved in.

PC: Well, Jeremy Schmidt from Black Mountain wrote the score and has an amazing record collection of soundtracks Panos Cosmatosand synth music from the 70s and 80s. He’s very influenced by that time and writes this amazing music that he records on analogue synthesizers. Once I discovered him, I really wanted him to score it. I showed him a rough cut and he really wanted to do it. I think he drew influences from a lot of not just soundtracks, but different artists from that era. John Carpenter was definitely part of that, but there were so many. I don’t know, our musical sensibilities were so close that I gave him some guidance, but generally I just let him create and it was like Christmas. Because I’m a fan of his, it was amazing to just to get to hear him create music and put it on my movie.

Overall the film’s formula isn’t anything something we’ve never seen before, but what Panos has done was added more to an era of films that had no idea what is was then or what it would become.

DS: How difficult was it to find financing for a project as experimental and out there as this? I’d imagine there would have been a lot of scratched heads while you were pitching it around.

PC: Well, I self financed it, but that didn’t stop people from scratching their heads when I was trying to talk them into working on it (laughs). The people that responded to it responded to it very strongly and wanted to be involved. It was just hard to find those people at times. The only reference they had for my work was a music video that was online. So that would show them that perhaps that mentality combined the script could be something interesting.

BTBR is what was to be expected of the son of the director of COBRA and seeing the world through his goggles and knowing the urge to go totally modern and sell this to the studios and not doing it, is a feat within itself and should be celebrated in this age of overdone. I bet no one could have seen this rebirth of 80′s coming and most won’t understand it or they think they will, but due to their lack of love for films, won’t be able to place a proper finger on it and that’s what I believe directors like Panos Cosmatos and Ti West (House Of The Devil) has set out to create…enigmas. Films without a home, but stand alone as works of art never to be looked upon as a movies in the Hollywood sense. BTBR is pure aural and eye candy for lovers of great science fiction (notice how I didn’t write 80′s science fiction). You won’t find me trying to even coddle those less likely to watch this movie cause there’s a time and place for everything and unlike some films from the past this one harnesses it’s own power, and because of modern technology, will be less susceptible to degradation/wear and tear unlike it’s 80′s predecessors, and that’s a bit of next gen that I’m sure even Panos Cosmatos is happy with.

The Omen – Instilling Fear of Children Since 1976

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“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / ‘Til man exists no more.”

Originally advanced screened in the United States on June 6, 1976, Richard Donner‘s The Omen, starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, terrified audiences with it’s hauntingly evil portrayal of the devil incarnate, in the shape of a little boy.

When their child dies at birth, Robert Thorn (Peck) decides to deceive his wife to spare her the grief.  In their child’s place, he agrees to take into their care, another child, born the same night as his biological child died.  Unbeknownst to him, or to his wife, Kathy, the child is the seed of Satan.  As Damien, their “adopted” child begins to grow, it sets in motion a chain of unfortunate, and deadly, events from which neither Robert nor his wife, Kathy, can escape.

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Many people have heard the stories of The Omen curse – the lightning strikes, the plane crashes, animal attacks, car accidents and the like.  Whether or not you believe in it, the murmurs of such a curse lurking around the production of The Omen did do something successfully, it drove people to the film either out of curiosity or morbid fascination.  Personally, I agree with the folks at deathensemble.com – and since I don’t believe in Satan, how could I possibly believe Satan didn’t want The Omen being made so he cursed the production of and those involved with the film?

Yeah, about that…

You see, the not believing in Satan, or in the Roman Catholic church, poses a significant problem for members of the viewing audience.  But, I suppose there’s two ways of looking at it – a.) who cares if these people don’t buy it, they knew what they were going to see, b.) maybe they’ll leave being a little more afraid of deception, children, and large, black dogs.

Either way, The Omen comes out a win-win for a filmgoer.  After all, devil or no, is there anything more terrifying than a child who doesn’t seem to think twice before harming its own mother?

There are plenty of tense moments, great effects, and the plot is kept moving by well-paced storytelling.

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The Omen made a strong impression on me when I first saw it years ago as a much younger incarnation of myself, one who still believed in demons and ghosts and biblical evil in general.  Now that I’m older, The Omen evokes other, more tangible fears about the cost of deception in a relationship, the alien nature of quietly scheming children, and of religiously motivated violence.

In a way, these two visions I have of The Omen make the film, its construction and execution, a very good one, even after more than 35 years.

 

Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” will always be a classic horror film

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Funny story…my wife and I both believed we had seen Suspiria before, but both of us had different memories of the film. So we rented it recently and none of us remembered anything we were seeing. It was strange, like seeing something for the first time, but we both knew we saw it together awhile back, but on a positive note, this movie “Suspiria” was way more entertaining than the film I remembered, so that was a plus.

In the seventies everybody was making horror films, what used to be an underground and somewhat subversive genre, was seeing it’s hay day with films like The Exorcist, The OMEN, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hollywood was realizing what a cash cow horror was, but it wasn’t until 1977 when Italian director Dario Argento released Suspiria, that Hollywood and horror fans alike, realized that horror could be visually stunning as well as bloody and disturbing.

Quick note: We also rented PHENOMENA, another one of Argento’s film’s starring a very young Jennifer Connelly and it wasn’t nearly as exciting, but in Dario’s defense we unknowingly watched SUSPIRIA out of chronological order. There were two other films after SUSPIRIA that were meant to be viewed together. They were lovingly referred to as “The Three Mother’s” by Dario Argento. They were SUSPIRIA (1977), INFERNO (1980, which turned out to be the film we mistook for Suspiria) and THE MOTHER OF TEARS (2007).

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SUSPIRIA SYNOPSIS: The film follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Harper) who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany, only to discover that it is controlled by a coven of witches.

The world Dario set out to create with SUSPIRIA was one of feminine power, both good and bad. His films usually involved a hero be it male or female, usually female, that has been displaced, an American in Europe or vice-versa. Take for instance our hero in SUSPIRIA, Susie Bannion played by Jessica Harper, she’s a dancer whose just arrived in Germany and is instantly greeted by a disgruntled cab driver at the airport and then when she get’s to the dance school she’s told she can’t come in. Mind you, it’s been pouring rain since she arrived. Part of me would like to believe that this is a text book horror set up, but he does it again in PHENOMENA. Whether politically driven or not, one can’t deny his need to seemingly torture American’s, but he does it with style. Dario is a master of getting the viewer to empathize with the protagonist.

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A series of unfortunate event’s leads Susie down a technicolor rabbit hole where she slowly learns that the dance school is a front for a witches coven that’s being controlled by an ancient evil. There’s a host of colorful character’s that poke their heads into the storyline, but none more daunting than the schools head mistress Madame Blanc played by Joan Bennett. Despite the bad dubbed English there are a few whose talent shines through the muddy ADR, which for all intents in purposes also adds to that strange vibe.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing how this story could very well be a mad man’s version of The Wizard of Oz. I haven’t quite figured out who’s the Lion or the Tin Man, but Susie is certainly Dorothy and Madame Blanc is definitely The Wicked Witch of the West. If I figure out the rest…I’ll let you know.

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You can’t mention SUSPIRIA without commenting on the look. If Dario Argento had been born in the early 1900′s, he would’ve been French and sipping Le Absinthe in some cafe filled with artists, poets and musicians. He masterfully blends elements of French Art Nouveau with 30′s art deco and gives it all a rock concert look. There’s not a frame that doesn’t have some over the top lighting scheme, bold colored walls, high concept architecture or freaky stained glass. Never would I have imagined that these images would become the thing of macabre, but what it does is it transports you to a vivid nightmare in which the setting is terrifying despite the lack of a graveyards, pitch black forests or haunted houses. He fools you, like a drug does it’s user, tapping into those triggers that can turn a “trip” to Disney World into a terrifying experience.

Dario also has a healthy love for eerie soundtracks, but he uses well known rock bands to produce the sounds, giving his landscapes that pop, that many have taken a page from. In PHENOMENA he used Iron Maiden in the soundtrack, in Suspiria he hired Italian progressive rock band GOBLIN (formerly known as Cherry Five), a band inspired by the sounds of Genesis and King Crimson. Their sound was so awesome they went on to provide the soundtrack for another Argento project, the George Romero film Dawn of the Dead.

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The Suspiria theme is not unlike the theme from The Exorcist, but let’s be honest, directors were serving up that strange sound ever since the success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. This is just another one of those classics like The Halloween, that get’s down in you and won’t let go.

These are all the elements that make this film such a classic, A film that isn’t all about the horror, but is also about giving you much more. At some point, someone must say “it has to still be an art form” and this is why directors like Alejandro Jordorowsky, Dario Argento and Stanley Kubrick have created films that give you much more than what you expected. Movies that went beyond and buried themselves in your soul, never letting go. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen Suspiria…see it. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way there’s a bar in Tokyo’s Fashion District based on Suspiria called “Cambiare”. From the chairs to the walls and the ceiling’s…it’s flawless! You can check it out HERE.

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The Ghosts of Infedility: Why What Lies Beneath Is Worth a Watch

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When their daughter leaves home for college, an affluent Vermont couple begins to transition into their new life, alone in a massive house on a lake.  Troubled by loud arguments between her neighbors, Claire – once an accomplished concert cellist – becomes consumed with fear.  Left home alone for most of the day while her gifted genetic scientist of a husband, Norman, is away in his lab, Claire finds herself becoming obsessed with the couple next door.  Until, one particularly stormy night, she sees something she mistakes for a body being loaded into the back of a car.  In her heart, she knows she can’t leave it alone.  But will Claire be ready for what she uncovers the closer she gets to the truth?

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Misdirection, ghosts, domestic violence, abandonment, fidelity, ambition, marital trust – heady issues explored in Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 supernatural horror film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Claire Spencer, Harrison Ford as Dr. Norman Spencer, James Remar as neighbor Warren Feur, Miranda Otto as his wife Mary Feur, Diana Scarwid as Claires friend Jody, and Wendy Crewson as Claire’s college friend, Elena.

What Lies Beneath is the Michelle Pfeiffer show.  Don’t buy the ticket to ride the ride unless you have even a modicum of interest in her.  By 2000 which saw the release of What Lies Beneath, one of Pfeiffer’s most commercially successful films, the actress was coming off a busy year of what had amounted in (more or less) tepid films (The Deep End of the Ocean, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Story of Us).

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The casting of Claire – a once accomplished artist, now a devoted mother and wife – was crucial for the success of What Lies Beneath.   Pfeiffer spends most of the film alone, dominating the scenes in near silence as she makes one fearful discovery after another, her grip on reality slowly unraveling.  Of course, Zemeckis has said that Pfeiffer was his only choice for the role[1], and while she is undoubtedly beautiful, with What Lies Beneath, she proves capable of holding her own in a horror film – at once giving us a character that is empathetic (key for a horror film) and utterly convincing.

It’s difficult to come at the film without discussing the narrative that unfolds about marriage and trust.  Much of the film’s plot is anchored in identity found and lost within the ties of marriage.  It’s one of the reasons I find What Lies Beneath such an interesting entry into the genre.  Okay, okay.  I’ll admit it, it’s sometimes fun to watch a horror film that’s not completely populated with clueless teenagers getting slaughtered.  And while I typically struggle with supernatural plots involving ghosts (or any mention of them), there is so much else going on in What Lies Beneath, I gladly put it aside to enjoy the film’s suspenseful, (and intentionally) Hitchcockian vibe.

The screenplay (written by Sarah Kernochan and Clark Gregg) just throws everything it can at it’s main character with a sort of relentless, sadistic cruelty.  A move, an empty nest, infidelity, violence, near fatal car accidents, a possession … by the time Claire reaches the film’s climax, it’s a wonder she retains any sense of self or reality.

Thanks to Kernochan and Gregg, long before that, before anything has really “happened” in the film, we know so much about the main character by watching her try to fill the hours with the daily grind of her new life – a life left a bit emptier in the wake of her daughter’s departure for school.  This proves essential for reeling us in, for making us commit.  As Claire faces her fate, I know you’ll be holding your breath along with her.

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And while many of the techniques employed by Zemeckis creates the feeling of a vacuum, it is necessary for constructing the atmosphere in which the character of Claire must finally face the truth about her life.  So, that feeling of discomfort you feel – it’s intentional, it’s crafted, and it’s … well, okay.  Performances by Harrison Ford, Diana Scarwid, and James Remar give the film an attractive, undeniable polish that, when garnered with a PG-13 rating, helped the film rake in serious cash at the box office with a purported $291M worldwide in receipts.

I’m not saying that the film is original, or unique.  Zemeckis has said he intentionally set out to craft a Hitchcockian thriller (check out the interview below) and I feel What Lies Beneath comes close.  It’s oft slow plot does mire down after the first 20 minutes or so and while the film has a genuine sort of creepiness factor to it, only those who find themselves irrevocably committed to seeing Claire’s character through to the end will remain enchanted.

Say what you will about “adult” horror, What Lies Beneath is a fun, if not slow, little ghost story that served it’s purpose.  It isn’t, nor was it ever intended to be, Zemeckis’ “masterpiece”.  After all, What Lies Beneath was filmed during the 14 month hiatus of the filming of Castaway - necessary for Tom Hanks’ remarkable weight loss.  What Lies Beneath allowed his crew to continue working so the studio would support Castaway‘s hiatus.

It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it (or you haven’t seen it in a while) for no other reason than the film’s final moments in which Zemeckis constructs the climax to What Lies Beneath.  It’s true the ending is a bit misaligned with the rest of the film’s pacing and sensibilities, but maybe that’s why I enjoy it.  As Claire struggles against the effects of the halothane, all sound fades away and we are left alone with the sound of the running water.  This scene is near perfect – regardless of the film that surrounds it.  Pfeiffer, who admits to being fearful of water, exudes horror film heroine in these moments.  You can watch the scene below, and – Try not to hold your breath.

Ti West’s Minimum Wage Ghost Story The Innkeepers

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During the final days of its operation, employees of the Yankee Pedlar – a grand, old Inn whose better days are now behind it – hope to catalog some of the supernatural events for which the Inn has become partially known.  As its last weekend begins, Claire and Luke – the only remaining staff – decide to check themselves into the Inn and remain there until Monday.  Joined by actress-turned-medium, Leanne Rease-Jones, the two settle in for the long weekend generally unprepared for what awaits them.

Directed by Ti West, The Innkeepers is the 2011 supernatural horror film starring Sara Paxton as Claire, Pat Healy as Luke, Kelly McGillis as Leanne Rease-Jones, Alison Bartlett as Gayle, Jake Ryan as Gayle’s kid, and Lena Dunham as the I-need-talk-to-someone barista next door.

theInnkeepers_1It’s easy to overlook the general awesomeness of The Innkeepers due to its runtime and slow-burn construction.  At 100 minutes, the film takes its sweet time building toward an ending that can’t be missed.  It’s this little kernel that sets The Innkeepers apart from almost every single one of its peers.  Films like Paranormal Activity and Insidious are solid at building necessary tension but neither of them have the universal approval of filmgoers for having delivered the goods by film’s end.  The Innkeepers definitely delivers.

The technique is seriously old school – Ti West purposely draws out the building of plot by spending a lavish amount of time on character development.  It’s in these moments that the real story theInnkeepers_2of The Innkeepers is unfurling.  If you give yourself to it, the reward at the film’s end is all the more gut wrenching.  If you find yourself bored to tears and wanting to turn it off, simply pause the film, grab a drink (coffee works, too) and relax.  The Innkeepers is as much about what you bring to the film as what it will deliver.  In this way, The Innkeepers is sure to find a serious base in fans of ’60s and ’70s horror films where stories were typically built around good/average people and the horrible event(s) that befell them.  Without the backstory, there was no scope, perspective, or barometer for the ensuing horror.

Here’s the reality.  52 minutes.  That’s about how long it will take for you to get a sense of the film’s overall thrust.

So, yes, it’s true the film is short on gore and big scares – at least initially.  This shouldn’t deter you, though.  There are other films in the genre that you can turn to if that’s all you’re looking for.  Check out The Innkeepers if you enjoy a character-driven thrill.

theInnkeepers_3Kelly McGillis, who had just come off a role in another horror film – Stake Land – the year prior, is a delight.  As an actress turned medium, it’s easy to dismiss her character – her motives, her insights, her warnings.  Think of her as the naysayer that everyone sees as a flake but who turns out to be the only one with even the faintest idea of what’s really going on.  She’s absolutely pivotal and I love seeing McGillis working, especially in the horror genre.  I love that she owns her age, her gray hair, and I applaud her for it.  In fact, I think she looks amazing.  After all, in the words of her character, “we all have our moments.”  And now, as McGillis enters a new stage of her career, may be hers.

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Sara Paxton who, as the young, wide-eyed asthmatic Claire, weaves a delicate performance between sensitive and naive, is nothing less than utterly lovable.  Her antics will have you laughing – the scene in which she takes out the garbage is among my favorites.

Told in a three-act structure The Innkeepers does a great job of poking fun at the reemergence of the spiritualist/paranormal movement and its mounting profitability thanks to renewed public interest in hauntings and supernatural events.   But really, it all boils down to the same thing.  As humans, facing our inevitable mortality, we can’t help but want there to be something else, something more, beyond what we can readily see or sense, beyond our existence.  As Claire and Luke face the close of the Yankee Pedlar, there is something inside them that can’t let go, that doesn’t want it to end.  Not until they have their proof.

We all know to be careful what you ask for.

If and when you make it to the third and final act, everything you’ve invested so far will finally pay off.   Ti West drains the final scenes of almost all light, forces his characters into the basement (again and again), and – at long last – gives you what you pressed play for.

Official site: http://www.magnetreleasing.com/theinnkeepers/

Trailer w/ introduction by Sara Paxton:

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Why a PG-13 Rating Spelled Success for Insidious

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Haunted houses.  Demon possession.  Seances.  The Further.  Astral Projection.  For the Lambert family, any hope of having a normal life gradually fades after their young son Dalton falls into a non-waking state.  As they struggle to make sense of what’s happening to their son, Renai and Josh are overcome with a feeling of never being alone.  Not quite.  Renai is tormented by noises and visions of things that aren’t there.  The events escalate until the family decides to move in hopes of getting away from whatever seeks to torment them.  But, once installed in their new home, things only become worse.  When Josh’s mother suggests they call in an expert, the Lamberts aren’t nearly prepared to learn the truth about what’s happening to their family.

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Starring Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert, Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert, Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert, Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert, Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, Leigh Whannell as Specs, and Angus Sampson as Tucker, Insidious is the 2011 supernatural horror film directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell – the team that brought us Saw.

I am a big fan of James Wan and of screenwriter Leigh Whannell.  The duo have a consistency about them that borders on the unreal.  What’s more, even though their work feels familiar, it almost never feels obvious or predictable.  I’m also a fan of the concept of astral projection.  Perhaps dismissed as too “new age”, or misunderstood altogether, the subject of astral projection has been much underused in film.  I’m happy to say that Insidious makes fun and creative use of the concept.  I’m also a fan of Patrick Wilson (The ConjuringLittle ChildrenAngels in America) whose resume boasts some complicated, nuanced performances that I’ve enjoyed watching time and again.

There.  With my biases set out, let’s talk.

Insidious is a rarity.  Made for about $1.5M and rated PG-13, Insidious was able to do something other films in the genre often only dream of – turn a relatively respectable profit: $90+M.  By capitalizing on a larger audience (and being widely entertaining) this modest horror film cashed in and it did so with very little violence and next to no bloodshed.  Does the PG-13 rating and lack of violence/gore mean it isn’t a “real” horror film?

Hell-to-the-no.

The horror factor of Insidious is, by necessity, internal – the fear of a parent that their child will be injured, the fear of a child of being alone, the fear of what lies in the darkness beyond our senses.  James Wan does a masterful job of using gothic-style scares to sculpt an atmospheric and spine-tingling film.

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Sure, there are moments that may feel a bit stagey, even Disneyland-ish, but remember you’re not watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, here.  This film also is meant to be enjoyed by a younger set.  A set filled with, perhaps, fewer biases and jaded sensibilities as yourself.  As a result, the film becomes a slightly lopsided experience – with the beginning half of the film building an almost impossible tension that may not really be satisfactorily resolved by the film’s (too literal?) ending.

There is a stillness to Insidious that, in direct contrast to many other pieces in the genre, builds much of the film’s tension and ambiance.  For those with a fear of being watched, Insidious knows where you live and breathe.  Others, who love to be shocked and awed, may be disappointed.

Insidious is a moderately (re)watchable film.  The same cannot be said for every entry into the horror film genre.  Many want to disgust you, shock you, disturb you to the point of making you look away from the screen.  What’s the point of that?  You’re there to see the movie, not look at the palms of your hands.  Sure, it’s great fun to be *that* unnerved in a safe environment, but it doesn’t do much in the way of telling a story.  It disengages the audience and results in the loss of their suspension of disbelief.

The true power of a horror film lies in its ability to draw its audience in, and keep them there – no matter how uncomfortable they may feel – to face those things that wait just beyond the darkness.

Would you let your kids watch it?  That’s a discussion for another writer on another blog – I’m not here to tell you if Insidious is “appropriate”, I’m not Big Sister.  I will say that, if pressed, it’s not exactly easy to come up with a moral bottom line to the film.  Is it to be always mindful of your actions?  Is it to respect all things, especially those for which our understanding is lax?  You be the judge.

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And yes, some of the film may invoke laughter on your part.  It’s okay to laugh while you’re watching a horror film.  Who said it isn’t?  I know that the depiction of the demon lurking over Dalton’s empty body has garnered a lot of attention - some enthusiasticsome laughably negative - and I don’t know if it will reappear in the upcoming sequel to the film.  I do know this.  The red-faced demon is portrayed by Joseph Bishara, the film’s score composer, and I’m sure he’ll be long remembered by an entire generation – even if they’re laughing a bit.

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