Tag Archives: devil

Movie Review: Horns

by Dan Fields

Daniel Radcliffe pursues the truth with diabolical powers in Alexandre Aja's Horns
© 2013 Dimension Films / RADiUS-TWC

Synergy With The Devil, or
Faust Highway

Alexandre Aja, a French filmmaker gone Hollywood down the most gore-splattered highway possible, engages a story more firmly rooted in the human soul than ever before. His prior moviemaking turns (most recently as producer for a harrowing remake of William Lustig’s Maniac) betray a penchant for jittering, shrieking horror that attacks the senses, the brain and heart second. Horns, based on the much-lauded novel by Joe Hill, plunges his raw director’s hands into a moral fable whose questions and troubling answers require some serious thought.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is a tortured soul in a bruised body. His dual burden is to come to terms with the brutal murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), while staving off an angry mob of former friends and neighbors convinced that, despite his acquittal, Ig himself killed off the hometown darling. His only true allies seem to be his brother Terry (Joe Anderson) his defense attorney Lee (Max Minghella), and his torch-carrying bartender Glenna (Kelli Garner), all of whom have known Ig since childhood. Between the three of them, there just might be some answers lurking, but Ig’s impotent rage at the cosmic unfairness of it all seems to have him deadlocked in limbo.

Ig finally lets his rage out in a drunken spree that apparently shakes something loose in either heaven or hell. Waking the next morning, he finds a wicked pair of horns sprouting from his head. Not only that, but everyone he meets treats him differently. His horns grant him a devilish power over people, compelling them to pour out their secret sins and desires. At first an unwilling confessor, he gradually realizes that lurking among the nauseating secrets of his neighbors is the identity of Merrin’s killer. With this in mind, he hones his fiendish influence to maximum effect, stalking the truth around town as the changes in him take deeper root. 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

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: 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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Movie Review: Devil

by Dan Fields
First published September 18, 2010 by the California Literary Review

We promised to be scared. Now leave us alone!

In case the audience wandered into a film called Devil with no clue what it might be about, the opening title card is a fairly unambiguous passage from the epistles of Saint Peter.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

In this little bit of scripture is all the setup necessary to follow the plot. But instead of leaving the audience to enjoy the slow build of supernatural terror, the director chooses to bombard the film with explanatory voiceover about the legendary cunning of the devil. It is not merely superfluous, but detrimental. Since the audience knows immediately that all spooky activity occurring in the next 80 minutes will be the devil’s work, the story’s mystery content is severely diminished.
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Movie Review: The Last Exorcism

by Dan Fields
First published August 28, 2010 by the California Literary Review

Possession Is Nine Tenths Of A Good Movie

There is a song by the Legendary Shack Shakers which opens thus:

“Well the devil’s in the details
And your reverend’s into retail”

This is as fitting an introduction as any to Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism, a film with plenty of good scares, and far more dramatic meat than its advertising campaign suggests. The trailer seems to have been aimed directly at the same crowd who flocked to Paranormal Activity, only to have their brain cells murdered by two dumpy kids trembling in fear of some purportedly spooky camera tricks. Duped once again into expecting the scariest movie ever, audiences instead got a Blair Witch knockoff masquerading as a much more clever film. Which it isn’t.

Fortunately, The Last Exorcism rises above this admittedly low bar. The story is fairly interesting and explores themes of real weight. Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is preacher to a small, devout congregation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Right away, we learn that his actual faith, if any, is a minor component of his calling.
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