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Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 3)

And so we gather once again at Fields Point Manor, to munch on the macabre. As before, we have a three-course horror marathon lined up to tide you over as the Halloween excitement really starts to build. Remember, a good scream is the best way to ease the grip of fear, keeping everything else inside you where it belongs.


Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Three:
We Gotta Get Outta This Place!

Last week we dined on blood and lots of it, in the company of vampires and other thirsty ghouls. But not every nightmare scenario can be solved with stakes, garlic or sunshine. Sometimes evil oozes out the very walls, floors, furniture and doors we count on to keep bad things away.

James Wan scored a victory this summer with The Conjuring, a haunted house thriller with modern intensity and classic storytelling sensibilities. The fear that we are not safe in our own beds is a timeless and potent soft spot on the human soul, and filmmakers of all sorts have eagerly probed that spot for decades.

Thinking outside the box on this topic was a challenge. Haunting stories make up a goodly portion of almost any top-10, desert-island horror movie countdown, and great ones have been made to suit every taste. The Shining is bleak and lavish, Poltergeist playfully hideous, The Haunting and The Innocents each a parade of good old-fashioned dread, and even those in the mood for the madcap have choices ranging from William Castle’s The House On Haunted Hill to the surreal Japanese freakout known as Hausu (House). If you have not had the pleasure, stop what you have going on and make room for these movies in your life, too. Meanwhile, we adjourn to the brandy and popcorn lounge for tonight’s features.

First Course: El Orfanato
(The Orphanage)
(dir. J. A. Bayona, 2007)

J. A. Bayon's The Orphanage tests a mother's love and sanity to their limits

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Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

by Dan Fields

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne return to battle evil in James Wan's Insidious Chapter 2

© 2013 FilmDistrict / Stage 6 Films

Insidious Harder

Earlier this year, James Wan scored beautifully in the horror market with The Conjuring (also starring Patrick Wilson), and while this script comes from a different imagination altogether (that of Saw scribe Leigh Wannell), Wan must have known better than to try competing with himself. The sardonic silliness poking through the seams of Insidious: Chapter 2 gives it such emotional distance from the dour, convincingly earnest peril of The Conjuring that by comparison, this gets to be the director’s “fun one” of 2013. Continue reading

Movie Review: The Conjuring

by Dan Fields

James Wan tackles a real life ghost story with the paranormal thriller The Conjuring
© 2013 Warner Bros. / New Line Cinema

Curb Appeal Comes To Amityville

James Wan, director of Insidious, Death Sentence, and the original Saw, has carved a checkered but significant niche in the most recent wave of high-polish horror thrillers. As a storyteller he has not generally chosen groundbreaking work, but he has an eye for detail that counts for a great deal, even when working elbow deep in schlock. He also has a demonstrable preoccupation with puppets and dolls, which mark him as a filmmaker dedicated to getting under his audience’s skin.

Despite what its austere title suggests, The Conjuring is not a sudden foray into slumber party black magic or card games about wizards. It is a reasonably old-school horror film about a house haunted, or rather oppressed, by unholy malevolence. There is nothing revelatory or innovative about The Conjuring, but there is a comfortable blending of the contemporary and the classic in the service of a quite a scary tale. Continue reading

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4

by Dan Fields
First published October 19, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Keep A-Knockin’ But You Can’t Commit

It is almost Halloween, which means time for one more Paranormal Activity at least. This year the ghost train (or demonorail) has broken out of Carlsbad and turned up in lovely suburban Nevada. Apart from that, little has changed. In most respects, this franchise has even gone back a few paces. So much for the train metaphor.

For those who came in late: Paranormal Activity is the continuing saga of a family whose long history with the occult has led to a spate of possessions, polter-violence, and vigilant home surveillance. Series creator and producer Oren Peli constructed the concept around handily placed cameras capturing “true life” hauntings with a seemingly bottomless barrel of visual tricks. Now, however, one can hear distinct scraping sounds as the bottom comes into view. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #3: V/H/S

by Dan Fields
First published October 12, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Promotional picture for horror anthology V/H/S

© 2012 Bloody Disgusting

For The Boozy Bash In Your Dorm Basement

V/H/S is the anthology you should have seen coming but probably did not. A team of hip, twisted young directors offer up a medley of shorts celebrating that troublesome new superfad, the “found footage” horror film. This is the shaky-camera, forced perspective, “faked to look real” style made popular by movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, which amateur directors are working to death in the low-budget horror market.

When Blair Witch hit the scene, the novelty of the idea (and very clever marketing) convinced some people that maybe what we were seeing could have happened. This ambiguity did not last long, and once gone the feeling was impossible to recapture. By the time Paranormal Activity ushered in a new found footage trend, audiences were in on the hoax but still eager to see what frightening tricks directors like Oren Peli could conjure. People are still paying good money to see these movies. And although there have been attempts to push the genre further, as in The Last Exorcism or the ambitious sci-fi tale Chronicle, the limitations of the genre make it hard for any but the most creative directors to serve up something new. Fortunately, the parties responsible for V/H/S approached their task with plenty of imagination. In record time, we have been sufficiently inundated with found footage style that subversion to the point of parody seems appropriate. V/H/S, in all its raw savage chaos, exemplifies both the best and the worst traits of found footage.

The shorts are woven together with a narrative about some ne’er-do-well pranksters sent to commit a bizarre burglary centered around a mysterious videotape. Searching stacks of tapes scattered around an eerily quiet house, they discover tale after tale of ghastly misadventures. Please note that despite the central conceit of a neglected tape stash, little if any of this movie originated in actual VHS form. The only reason malevolent forces might have dubbed these videos to the antiquated format is because it’s cooler and scarier than digital video. Like in The Ring. From a practical standpoint, it looks doubtful that any of these films has a perspective that could reasonably have been captured with a VHS camera. For those of you too young to have used one of those, it was some hefty chore. In order to focus on the best parts of V/H/S, first put from your mind any notion of real VHS tapes. It may be a half-baked style choice, but they made it and stuck to it. Just let it go.

According to the tradition of anthologies, from Black Sabbath to Creepshow to Trick ‘r Treat, not all the shorts in V/H/S are created equal. The most notable name in this mix is Ti West, director of the superb House Of The Devil (just to name his best). While West’s segment “Second Honeymoon” is not the most interesting or innovative in this collection, it demonstrates his proven knack for mining dread from quiet, mundane moments. Like a goodly portion of West’s work, it takes just a little too much of its own sweet time.

There are, in each segment, moments of true inspiration to balance the uneven pace and the over-reliance on “video interference” as a narrative gimmick. Despite the overall laxity of the storytelling, V/H/S repeatedly goes for the gut and pummels the nerve endings raw. Be warned: this is one violent, naked, gruesome movie. From the raunchy frat fable “Amateur Night” to the momentous events of “10/31/98,” via “Tuesday the 17th” and, yes, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger,” be prepared for some uncomfortable brushes with the lower orders of humanity. The hideous, the harmful, and the downright monstrous are on constant parade in V/H/S. Don’t split hairs; just have fun with it. The Exorcist and The Innocents and Kwaidan will still be there when you’re finished with V/H/S. Open your mind to a reasonable level of vulnerability, don’t think too hard about it, and against your better judgment you will probably enjoy yourself a whole hell of a lot.

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 3

by Dan Fields
First published October 22, 2011 by the California Literary Review

The Devil and Me and Teddy Makes Threee

Paranormal Activity 3 was inevitable. This is the horror franchise that people love to hate, but still keep paying to see. Rather than introduce another parallel timeline to the first two chapters, this movie serves as a full-blown prequel. We will now witness the harrowing events of 1988, when protagonists Kristi and Katie were little girls together. As it turns out, they have already been through the familiar regimen of being taped while they sleep. When troublesome things stir in the night, the girls’ video-geek stepfather Dennis decides to capture and track the phenomena with nightly surveillance footage. In other words, he assumes the same role as Micah Sloat in the first film, only working in analog, and for the record is far less irritating a character.

em>Paranormal Activity 2 was an interlocking piece of the original Paranormal Activity. Part 3 is more of a tangential riff. All this footage apparently made up a box of home videos stolen from Kristi’s house, which burglary prompted the setup of their home security system in Part 2. How or why we are seeing these old tapes is a total mystery, and it makes everything just a little bit weirder and more interesting. This new entry has a lot of problems, but it is easily the best of the films so far. If this had stood alone and been released by itself as Paranormal Activity, a lot of us would not be so down on the franchise as we are.
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Movie Review: Drive Angry 3D

by Dan Fields
First published February 26, 2011 by the California Literary Review

Holy Gracious Hell

Taking into account all the casual profanity, copious T&A, comic book violence, awesome cars and impossibly badass gunfights, Drive Angry must surely have been written by the smartest group of fourteen-year-old boys living in America today. This is not meant to sound as snide as it probably does. Assuming that any two of those things just mentioned ever held a prominent place in your adolescent fantasy, you may find yourself thoroughly entertained against your better judgment. Conversely, anyone who has outgrown or never entertained the dream of meeting a gorgeous blonde who drives fast, punches hard and loves to cuss, might find this movie just a touch juvenile. Think of it as a big bucket of Halloween candy for the eye and the lower parts of the brain, and you will be ready to approach it in the proper spirit.
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Movie Review: Season Of The Witch

by Dan Fields
First published January 08, 2011 by the California Literary Review

Bored At The Stake

There are many different ways to go when making a film about knights, witches, pestilence, the Middle Ages and so on. Make Witchfinder General, or The Seventh Seal, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Do not, however, make a dull, half-assed period adventure disguised by its ad campaign as a horror film.

Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play two of the most legendary knights of the Crusades (apparently), who nonetheless grow disillusioned and desert the conquest of the Moors. Cage’s epiphany comes after inadvertently slaying a civilian in the heat of battle, which apparently he has never done before despite his unmatched prowess as a warrior. On the way home, they find themselves entangled in a quest to transport a suspected witch to a hidden monastery where she may stand trial for causing a widespread plague… blah blah blah. This is a perfectly good premise for dealing out some cheap scares, maybe a few grim laughs, and plenty of spooky atmosphere. Unfortunately, all three of these are in painfully short supply. For all its delightful B-horror potential, Season Of The Witch is a total snoozer.
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