Tag Archives: children

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Camps of Horror

The Last KnockThis isn’t a snipe hunt! Seriously! Then again, maybe it is… but with Camps of Horror, you never know until it’s too late.

So pitch your tent, roast your weenie, and watch out for the guy behind you with an ax to grind, as we explore Camps of Horror. We’ll look at the tried and true, from Friday the 13th to Sleepaway Camp, to a few places your parents failed to leave you for the summer.

This is your last bit of fun before the lights go out, the place gets quiet, and you start to sleep when you hear that branch break outside. Yeah, you know what’s coming next with Camps of Horror, and it ain’t pretty!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@loveandmonsters @vitotrabucco @palkodesigns @THETomSavini @GorillaProducer  @WeinsteinFilms @stycks_girl @GrumpyOldRick @JohnnyVeins @Felissa_Rose @nicolemalonso @JonnyTiersten @OklahomaWard @IjasonAlexander @RonGizmo @dkarner @fastelk @AtlantisKane @MelanieMcCurdie @RealRonJeremy @d_m_elms @Scream_Factory @FriscoKidTX @RSBrzoska @dixiefairy @MachineMeanBlog @LoudGreenBird and Paul J. Williams

THE LAST KNOCK presents: CUB (2014)

The Last Knock

Get your horror merit badge! This Belgian adventure/horror from Jonas Govaerts has been receiving some hype as of late, but is this story of a scout troop in the woods worth a watch? We take a look at the story, and its simultaneous thwarting of some genre conventions while going head over boots for others. Curl up in your sleeping bags and give this one a listen.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS go to: @LianeMoonRaven @RonGizmo @Annie_Acorn @sg_lee_horror @AAPublishingLLC @TheDeadCanWrite @MelanieMcCurdie @derekailes @RealJillyG @L_Roy_Aiken @EmilieFlory @Tammysdragonfly @PromoteHorror @BleedingCritic @i_far @machinemeannow @willkravitz @GreyMatterPress @AnnThraxx @dvdinfatuation

Crash Analysis: The Kids Aren’t All Right

ATaleofTwoI had the pleasure of presenting this paper at the MAPACA Fall Conference in Philadelphia, 2011 on Lisa Miller’s Horror Panel. Afterwards, The Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association printed the work in their The Gazette. Unfortunately, the publication from that year is no longer available online, so I present it here. Enjoy:

The Kids Aren’t All Right:

Horror Movies Remind Us that Protecting Children at Home is an Illusion

William D. Prystauk

© 2011, Crash Palace

To be successful, a horror movie must play off existing fears to extract that all important jolt from the audience. This means the basics: isolation, being surrounded by unreliable people, finding one’s self to be helpless (due to lack of phones, weapons or knowledge of surroundings), no escape routes, unforeseen threats and where the ordinary becomes Freud’s “the uncanny.” In addition, one of the most ordinary, and at times taken for granted elements in our lives, is the home. A home is our refuge, our fort – our protective womb. The place where we expect to be protected. Yet, this is most often exploited in horror movies where our beloved and sacred homes become prisons, torture chambers and tombs.

No wonder so many horrors are home based, where we see a family enter their new, happy house only to find it possessed, or haunted (by the ethereal or the corporeal). In these instances, especially with family based horror fair, such as Poltergeist or The Amityville Horror, the audience usually becomes invested in wanting to see the children saved from ghosts, demons and serial killers. Now that the protective walls of the home have been breached by outside forces or from internal netherworld forces, audiences long to sigh in relief as the children make it out alive, with the family unit intact, of course, thus increasing the suspense. Even many audience members without children of their own long to see the outcome where kids and teens survive to enjoy another day.

But what if the child is the source of horror? What if the ones we are sworn to protect – love to protect – bring us grief, pain and even death? To do this, we’ll look at three different movies that approach the issue from different perspectives: 1956’s The Bad Seed, 2002’s A Tale of Two Sisters and 2010’s The Last Exorcism.

The home protects each of us as if a womb – and this is not to feminize the home by any means. It is that the home nurtures us, helps us grow as if we are indeed in a womb manufactured outside the forces of nature. Therefore, whether young or old, we feel familiar and at ease with our surroundings because we have grown within them as we once did in our mother’s bodies. As Gaston Bachelard states in The Poetics of Space, “A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability” (17). Yet we are never made aware of this illusion of stability until disaster strikes: a break-in, a fire, or even flood damage, as examples. Horror movies, however, are apt to remind us of our delusions in short order.

This illusion of stability, or its shattering to be more precise, is clearly evident in 1973’s The Exorcist where Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) could not protect her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair) from being possessed by a demon – nor could the mother drive the demon out herself. Instead, she remained completely helpless as others tended to her daughter. Exorcism, the act of extracting a demon from a human host, has been a prevalent theme in horror movies, where the possessed is usually a child or teenager. And although the exorcism movies may have been prevalent in the seventies, thanks to the success of The Exorcist, there has been a resurgence in the new millennium with the “fact” based The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005, followed by

Exorcismus (2010), and Insidious and The Rite (2011). The most interesting of the films, however, is Daniel Stamm’s 2010 hit, The Last Exorcism.

Taking place in the back woods of Baton Rouge, The Last Exorcism is a mockumentary that follows Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) as he uses tricks and illusions to extricate a demon in the possession of Nell Sweetzer (Ashely Bell) because he at first believes the teen is only acting out for attention. Once the reverend realizes Nell is truly possessed, he does everything possible, including putting his life on the line, to save the girl.

The most intriguing aspect of the film, however, is Nell’s fundamentalist father, Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum). He is convinced, beyond a doubt, that his daughter has a demon inside her, which is a far cry from what the reverend thinks is happening. Cotton Marcus sees Nell as a tormented teenager not just undergoing hormonal changes, but she may be suffering from emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of her father – a strong personality not to be thwarted. Louis, concerned for his daughter’s soul and what she might unleash upon the world if she remains possessed, has other concerns regarding his modest home tucked away in the woods. He has a wife and three other children to protect.

Playing the role of the fundamentalist Christian father, where Louis’ home is his castle and his family is his responsibility, he is out to protect them at all costs. Throughout the movie, Louis deteriorates as Nell’s condition worsens. No longer hoping for the reverend to save his daughter, Louis must save her soul – and the remainder of his family – by killing her. Though this act may seem ridiculous, cruel and in exact opposition to his beliefs, Louis is a desperate man, and by killing his own daughter, he will in fact live up to his requirements as protective father, and will thus maintain the safety of the home. After all, Nell’s soul is far more important in his Christian mindset than her physical being. The Sweetzer home, as a collective, as a family, must be protected and maintained even at the cost of one of its members. Louis would rather remove his daughter than see the rest of the family tainted or destroyed by what possesses her.

The final act, as the demon within claims more of Nell, pits Cotton Marcus and his renewed faith in exorcism against Louis’ Old Testament need to sacrifice his daughter.

Usually, in most horrors affecting the children of the home, the parents are more than willing to sacrifice themselves for their children at any cost. And we see this in The Exorcist, Poltergeist and Funny Games to name a few. But The Last Exorcism was not the first to present a parent finding no other recourse but to kill his or her own child.

In 1956, The Bad Seed, based on William March’s celebrated novel and successful Broadway play, brings us eight year old, Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), full of sugary sweet Eddie Haskel like praising and well wishes – the “smart ass” kid always out to pull a fast one on friends and strangers with a smile and placations. Though not possessed by a demon like Nell Sweetzer, little lovely Rhoda is evil incarnate. She wants things her way at all costs and is not afraid to kill to make that happen, such as drowning classmate Claude Daigle to get a medal for penmanship Rhoda felt she deserved. As the boy’s “accident” and Rhoda’s nonchalant behavior about the death continue to plague the mind of her mother, Christine (Nancy Kelly), it is clear that Rhoda’s protector is on to her.

Though the book explores the notion of “nature” versus “nurture”, the movie is more concerned with the mother and how she will handle the situation with Rhoda. After all, Christine is in a quandary: How could people ever believe her darling princess to be a murderer? Seeing no way out, Christine decides to do what she must: Kill her own daughter before she kills again. But this decision is not reached quickly and it is not taken lightly. As the story progresses, Christine’s desperation rings loud and clear. She suffers in silence and her anxiety grows as she watches Rhoda manipulate, hurt and steal from those around her. When a handyman is almost burned to death at the tender hands of Rhoda, the mother realizes she must act.

In this instance, however, Christine has no other purpose than to protect the world around her. And since Christine realizes she also killed someone in her past and that her genes may be responsible for the creation of another monster, after poisoning Rhoda and putting her to bed for her final sleep, the mother attempts to take her own life. Here, the once safe and vibrant home has turned into an emotional torture chamber and now looms to become a death chamber. In the safety and seclusion of home, Christine initiates the final act that will remove them both from society. Interestingly, the mother leaves no note behind to explain her actions to a world that will in no doubt be bewildered and will condemn her for her terrible actions. It is as if nothing exists now but the home as a prison where both mother and daughter will be put to death behind closed doors. This is very fitting because the mother never seems to even leave the home and had already made herself a prisoner long ago because of her horrific nightmares. Subconsciously, Christine knows she has killed and treats herself as if she is under house arrest for her crime. Once she realizes Rhoda is following in her wake, there is no choice but to do what she may have wanted for herself a long time ago.

Christine was clearly in a state of denial about herself as well as her daughter, and she needed a large amount of evidence before getting over the fact that Rhoda is not a sweet little angel, but an envious perfectionist hellbent to get everything she ever wanted – with the cool lack of conscience one would expect from an assassin. Then again, what parent would not be in denial? Granted, there are no absolutes, but many can only envision their offspring as angelic souls that respect others. After all, if the child is truly a “bad seed”, then parents must share in the blame – especially an eight-year-old girl. And we can not imagine any parent wants to see himself or herself as a failure in child rearing, hence the denial. Furthermore, there must be an element where parents convince themselves that they can make the situation “right” because a child can not be held accountable for such violent acts – the parent simply failed on the grandest of scales. Again, denial and the lack of acceptance that the child is his or her own person with a propensity for choosing to be good or evil.

Denial is certainly a key factor in most horrors involving children and teens in the home. In the riveting, A Tale of Two Sisters the father, Bae Moo-hyeon (Kap-su Kim) is in such denial about his one daughter’s apathetic condition, he can barely look at her and he functions like a robot, even though Bae soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim) is bitter, angst ridden and self-involved. The father’s denial is so deep, and he has become so impotent as a husband, a father and a man, he invites guests to visit his emotional torture chamber of a home for a sit down dinner that goes horribly awry. It’s not until near the end of the film where the father, so wrought with sadness and despair that he clearly becomes a truly broken man, just matter-of-factly tells Bae soo-mi everything she needs to know about her sister, her mother and her world, and simply walks away leaving his daughter absolutely dumbfounded. His denial and depression are so deep, because he has failed so miserably as a husband and father, he knows he cannot cope with his daughter’s distress and abandons Bae soo-mi in her moment of revelation.

In all three films, the daughters have threatened the family dynamic whether by their own hand or via possession, turning the home into a house of horror. Where peace and comfort should reign supreme, anxiety and fear take hold, threatening, dissecting and destroying the family unit. Moviemakers, playing on the fears that an enemy can lurk within, compounded by the fact that the enemy is a child that should otherwise be protected and that the parents are virtually helpless, whether by choice or other means, creates an unsettling sensation in the minds of the audience, to say the least.

Yet there is another element at play. When thinking of “children gone wrong” in the horror genre, these films come to mind: The Omen from 1976, The Good Son (1993), The Children (2008) and 2010’s Insidious. They are important because they represent but a handful of instances where the child causing grief in the home involves boys. Most tales have girls at the centerpiece for evil, possession and mayhem. But why?

Author Armin Brott, whom Time labeled “the superdad’s superdad” says that “As our children grow, we remain more protective of girls than boys.” Although this seems too prevalent in western society, women and young girls around the world are still the primary victims of abuse, from genital mutilation to early marriage, human trafficking and forced prostitution, which is confirmed by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and countless other worldwide institutions and their numerous studies. Yet a strong dichotomy exists because the “damsel in distress” archetype is still heavily relied upon in horror movies.

One of the world’s oldest female archetypes, the poor damsel, is in need of saving throughout all genres of literature and film, and from a multitude of different cultures. “The shadow side of this archetype mistakenly teaches old patriarchal views that women are weak and teaches them to be helpless and in need of protection” (“A Gallery”). Therefore, the audience’s role is significant. Like the parents, or heroes in the movie, we collectively want the girl to be saved. Call this Lamia’s and Krieger’s “White Knight Syndrome” without the romantic attachment. As Dr. Lamia told me in regard to so many young woman being the prime attraction to horror in the home, “I am not sure about the choice of young girls in distress by filmmakers, but would speculate that it could be the utilization of gender bias – the erroneous perception that females are more vulnerable or emotional, and therefore subjects with whom a viewer would likely empathize.” This “perception of vulnerability” may be the key because attractiveness does not seem to play a role. Many of the girls, such as The Exorcist’s Regan and Poltergeist’s Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), and even the ruthless Rhoda from The Bad Seed, are presented as “cute” and innocent. Although Bae soo-mi is an attractive young woman, this is a secondary characteristic to her mental state, and in the film her character is usually under many layers of clothing and indulges in little cosmetics. Finally, in The Last Exorcism, Nell is presented as a homely young teen. Regardless of the overall intentions, even for those audience members without children, there is a need to reach through the screen and rescue the child from the clutches of evil – let us say this reaction is akin to “it takes a village.”

If sex appeal is not the main factor in choosing young women or girls to be at the center stage of horror in the home, it must be the notion from filmmakers that females are still considered “the weaker sex” and better represent true innocence. However, filmmakers may be playing off an audience’s misconception of the weaker sex, where moviegoers see the female “victim” as innocent when she is actually callous, especially in the case of Rhoda Penmark where the child is a dichotomy – sugar and spice in its umpteenth form. Therefore, horror movies are not necessarily exploiting girls or laughing at a parent’s perspective of seeing their child as angelic when they are not. Horror movies showcasing the child as an enemy from within is simply exposing a truth that certainly may exist, which cateogorizes these films as cautionary tales. Dr. Heide, professor of criminology at the University of Florida, says in a CBS News article that “On average, about five parents are killed by their biological children in the United States every week” (“Q&A”) and in a twenty-four year study, “Girls younger than 18 were the killers in 20 percent of the matricide incidents committed by juveniles” (“Q&A”). And, sadly, the US Census Bureau continues to turn out statistics revealing that juvenile crime is alive and well. Horror movies dealing with this type of subject matter, whether the young brute is male or female, “pull out the tenets of the human experience and examine them in their ugliest guise, to hopefully be more honest about the things that destroy us from within, and change our ways” (Bishop).

Ultimately, there seems to be no end to having children, especially girls, as the motivating force behind horror in the home. This is the last thing we expect as parents and as adults in society: to find a child responsible for ruining a family and its figurative home from the inside – rotting a house as if afflicted with blight. Even though we may not understand why violent home invasions occur, we can grasp that negative external forces were trying to get something from within a protective structure. Yet, to have a home shattered by a family member that lives within its walls, a true domestic terrorist – a traitor – stuns us and leaves us torn between saving the child or finding no other recourse but to destroy the child. And this double- edged sword of rescue and retribution will no doubt keep moviegoers on edge for many more horror movies to come.

Works Cited

“A Gallery of Archetypes.” MetaReligion. StrasoSphere, 27 OCT 2007. Web. 01 Sep 2011.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Reprint. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. Print.

Bishop, Ally. “Arrived.” Message to William D. Prystauk. 05 Sep 2011. E-mail.

Brott, Armin. “The Difference Between Boys and Girls.” Canadian Parents – Canada’s Parenting Community. Rogers Digital Media, 2011. Web. 01 Sep 2011.

Heide, Kathleen M. “Q&A: Why Kids Kill Parents.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive Inc., 10 Apr 2010. Web. 23 Sep 2011. <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/10/48hours/ main6383938.shtml>.

Lamia, Dr. Mary. “Speaking Inquiry via Psychology Today.” Message to William D. Prystauk. 01 SEP 2011. E-mail.

(Photo from a scene of A Tale of Two Sisters from Fangoria.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: Randy Brzoska’s “Kid in Play” (Part IV)

Problems with Children in Horror Movies

            Early in the 2011 movie Citadel there is a scene that pulls me out of the narrative without fail every time I see it. It stops me cold.

The protagonist, a young widowed father named Tommy, is home alone one www.indiewireevening with his infant daughter. He’s been having a hard time. And he’s been seeing some things that, for reasons I won’t explain here, can best be described as disturbing.

So he is alone with his daughter. He sees a hypodermic needle on the floor. Puts the child down to inspect. The lights go out. He LEAVES HIS DAUGHTER ON THE FLOOR in the dark with the needle while he goes to investigate.


            I imagine the intended effect here was to build up some tension, create a little suspense. But instead of sitting on the edge of my seat, I’m slapping my forehead thinking: “For the love of god, get your fucking kid!”

The problem is that the first instinct for most parents in this sort of situation is to pick up their infants and keep them close in order to protect them. No parent worth their salt would let their child crawl around crying in the dark while potential danger lurked around the corner. And then there’s the goddamn needle! Don’t get me started about the fucking needle. The scene doesn’t work the way it’s intended because the character doesn’t behave the way a parent behaves. The verisimilitude is shattered. And in a movie like this—like most horror movies–that’s scene-death.

What I conclude is that either the writer didn’t really know or think about how parents react in emergencies or did know and forewent the natural action for the sake of pumping a few extra chills in the movie. I bring it up because—though we’ve touched on many of the positives of using child characters in horror movies–it’s illustrative of the problems that can arise should you choose to do so. [i]

Before we proceed, let’s articulate the assumptions from which we’ll be working. First, consider that horror movies, more so than many genres, rely on an adherence to anthropocentric realism. For good reason. We can see why if we break it down thusly:

  1. Horror movies are typically depictions of human interactions with unknown and or/nihilistic forces or entities.
  2. These depictions are dramatizations of real human fears (both universal and contextual) and existential crises.
  3. In order to appropriately heighten and dramatize these fears, artists embody them in forms that are grotesque, fantastic, supernatural, monstrous, and inhuman.
  4. The viewer understands these forms as both ‘real’ (in terms of the narrative) and unreal[ii] (not actual; a fiction, though perhaps possible). The forms operate at both a literal (monster/antagonist) and figurative (metaphorical/symbolic) level.
  5. In order to accept these forms as ‘narratively real’ and feel fear and dread, the viewer must relate to a sympathetic anthropocentric entity within that narrative. Namely, human characters behaving acceptably human within the context of the world presented by the book or film.[iii] These entities act and react in ways the viewer might.
  6. A film that does not have sympathetic human characters that behave consistently will fail to present its forms as ‘narratively real’ and will fail to elicit fear and dread.

In short: no nod to anthropocentric realism, no horror. Given the sheer amount of fantastic crap going on in the typical horror movie (killers that don’t die, the dead rising, alien invasions, ghosts, monsters, etc…) a well-established human point-of-view is required or the viewer is going to be confused, disgusted, bored, or interested but not terrified. Any way you look at it, that’s failure for a horror movie.

So for a movie like Citadel, which couches its horror in the gritty and realistic world of present day working-class Ireland and relies on this realism to suck the viewer into its world, deviations from normal behavior are magnified and getting them right becomes critical. If a writer manipulates character, the viewer in turn becomes aware that they are manipulated. The writer risks pulling the viewer out of narrative they’ve so painstakingly constructed.

So this is where kids get tricky. Make the wrong decision with a kid in a horror movie, goodbye horror. Here are the most frequent ways this happens:

  1. A.    The writer doesn’t understand children; children or parents behave unrealistically (by accident). Offenders: Mikey, Home Movie.
  2. B.    Predictability. If there is a child protagonist, chances are they’re going to live. Offenders: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, War of the Worlds (2005).
  3. C.   Cliches. The prescient kid-seer; the staring creepy kid; kids who draw creepy things; kids who say creepy things. Offenders: Hide and Seek, Sinister, Dark Touch
  4. D.   Bad Acting. Need I say more? Offenders: The Shining, Aliens, The Purge

Now, these won’t necessarily sink your movie all by themselves. Indeed, if the rest of the film is solid they can be overcome. For example, every time little Danny Torrance comes on the screen in The Shining I cringe. But I still love the movie overall. However, let’s face facts here: most movies aren’t The Shining.


[i] By ‘human’ we may include beings that were once human and/or share human values. For example, Abigail Breslin’s character in 2012’s HAUNTER or even the titular robot from WALL-E (2008), who stands for human values lost in that film’s universe.

[ii] Yes, even ‘realistic’ horror as depicted in films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Men Behind the Sun are at some level ‘not believable’ despite the fact that what they depict either has really happened or is possible. Their function is to show the real-but-unbelievable and ask the viewer: “How is it that this could be true?”

[iii] For example, Henry Spencer in ERASERHEAD (1977) behaves oddly but consistently in David Lynch’s bizarre universe and his everyday actions, annoyances, and desires are recognizably human.

(Photo from Blogs.Indiewire.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: CARRIE (2013) Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[100 minutes. R. Director: Kimberly Peirce]

In the horror canon, Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) is considered a signature work – a 12812film that, without fail, gets frequent mention on those “What to Watch this Halloween” lists. Based on Stephen King’s first published novel, it tells the tale of the titular outcast (Sissy Spacek), who is dominated by her fundamentalist wack-job of a mother (Piper Laurie), and tormented by her peers. Along the way, she discovers telekinesis may be the best method of getting even with her enemies. Perhaps more so than King’s book, De Palma’s film became an ironic foreshadow to later acts of true-life horror in the hallways of American high schools.

That being said, is CARRIE really a signature work? Insofar as establishing the style-over-substance template De Palma would utilize for the rest of his career, sure. But as far as a resonant work of horror where fully realized story and characters is concerned, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The problems with the 1976 version stem largely from its central brain trust: King notably trashed a draft of his novel before his wife retrieved it (the rest, as they say, is history), and its clunky structure and stilted prose speaks to his limitations as a writer. Throughout his career, De Palma has been criticized for glorifying technical dexterity over emotion. At its core, his CARRIE is more concerned with look than feel (as evidenced in his use of split-screen, slow motion, and even rewind), and the best efforts of actors like Spacek, Amy Irving, and William Katt are buried beneath a bunch of aesthetic razzle-dazzle. The film was also prone to campy hysterics, courtesy of Piper Laurie’s overrated performance.

In the ensuing years, Carrie’s legacy continued as a short-lived musical (1988), a belated 1999 sequel, and a made-for-TV remake in 2002 (actually a pilot for a series that never happened). The character remains resonant in pop culture, even if the approach has never transcended King’s pages.

All of this begs the question: is a full-blown CARRIE remake relevant in this day and age, especially when the “high school outcast” archetype has chiseled out its own horror-centric gallery of familiar faces? Think Angela Bettis (of the 2002 CARRIE) in MAY; Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins in the GINGER SNAPS trilogy; and Mia Wasikowska in STOKER. They all successfully recycle Carrie White’s lifeblood into uniquely three-dimensional characters without diminishing her goddess-like stature among the genre’s strong females.

CARRIE 2013 sees the telekinetic terror through a distinctly (and necessarily) female perspective, and the result – while familiar – is almost revelatory. With Kimberly Peirce (BOYS DON’T CRY) at the helm, the film transforms De Palma’s parlor trick into something chilling and heartbreaking. As unlikely a Carrie as Chloë Grace Moretz (LET ME IN) makes, she sells the character with conviction and brilliance in a single scene. Ditto, Julianne Moore, who ignores Laurie’s histrionic cues to turn Margaret White into a more nuanced human monster. Even the young supporting cast sells the complexity of high school, its social strata, and the fluctuating emotions and loyalties that accompany it.

A fundamental understanding of women and their bodies is a key thematic element, and in Peirce’s hands, blood takes on a symbolism beyond mere shock value – there’s humiliation, fear, and sadness to be gleaned from Carrie’s first period. Young bodies are examined in close-up, and females are photographed with a tenderness or cruelty that transcends knee-jerk misogyny.

Opening with a sequence that would be gratuitous if handled differently, Margaret gives birth to Carrie, and is thwarted in her attempt to kill the child by her telekinetic gift; what could have been an exploitative slasher scene instead shows the power struggle between the two characters, even at that early stage. Once a sheltered teenager, Carrie is an almost androgynous outsider – as emphasized in her frumpy clothes and gym attire (a black swim cap and matching one-piece practically erase gender). Unlike Spacek, however, Moretz’s Carrie is more aware of her status and surroundings, and starts honing her craft early on – by the time the dread-ridden prom sequence occurs, we rightly expect the worst. It’s an interesting paradox, as our hearts sink in tandem with our anticipation of catharsis – for Carrie and us.

But this CARRIE isn’t all about the horror, and Peirce’s intrepid aesthetic decisions bring us closer to the character than ever before. After her first period, the “scene of the crime” is revisited during a heart-to-heart with Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer – TV’s “Archer”), emphasizing that some wounds never heal. The film uses blood to unite and implicate all involved, from Margaret’s childbirth to Carrie’s period, and to the prank that drives the last act. It’s blood in, blood out, and Peirce takes none of it lightly – the violence has a feminine character, as distinct as the natural, biological purging of blood.

While the film bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, it is in the skillful manipulation of the well-known that it finds success. Whereas De Palma made a showy adaptation of a pulp novel, Peirce finds a kindred-spirit empathy with characters whose motives we completely understand. In the end, the emotional toll is compelling, heartbreaking, and horrifying. CARRIE is a horror remake of rare beauty, and one of 2013’s best films.

4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb works in the salt mines at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is not allowed to wield sharp objects on Thanksgiving. He also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews athttp://numbviews.livejournal.com, and on Twitter @JonnyNumb.

(Photo from OMG Stars.)

Crash Analysis: THE CONJURING (2013)


A ghost story you’ve seen before…

Wonderful directing, acting, editing, cinematography, special effects, and at least three Conjuringsolid scares. Sounds like a perfect movie, right? But the script came from the pens of twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, the duo who brought us 2007’s pathetic THE REAPING, and the laughable idiocy of HOUSE OF WAX (2005), among others. This time around, finally for horror fans, they delivered a tight well plotted tale. The only problem: We’ve seen this all before.

Though nothing was conjured in THE CONJURING, we follow the Perron family as they purchase a new home (never saw that in a ghost story before). And in short order, weird things happen to all seven of them, including the usual clichés: bumps in the night, banging, shadows, hauntings, dead animals, and possession (ala Wan’s other film, the over-rated INSIDIOUS, thanks to a hokey third act). Yes, we’ve seen all of this many times before – too many times in fact. Then again, with the multitude of ghost stories out there, maybe it’s hard to be original.

For highly spirited fair with new takes on maybe the world’s oldest genre, one must look to films that deliver a unique premise, such as THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and its torment of a young boy by the spirit world who seeks help from a child therapist, or THE ORPHANAGE (Spain, 2007), where a mother searches for her lost son. (Other examples will arise from the grave in another post.) But the Haye’s brothers break no new ground for the genre – NONE. Then again, they supposedly captured the true tale of the actual Perron family, which took place over a ten year period (1971-1980). In an article from the Christian Post Reporter, Lorraine Warren states that the filmmakers did “a pretty good job” with the Perron family possession/haunting. However, in the past, the Warren’s have come under scrutiny, especially for their most famous case (as hinted in THE CONJURING), the Amityville horror. Many say the hauntings on Long Island never took place, and owners of the home since the 70s have stated that they never experienced one supernatural thing. In USA Today, Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five girls, “says the film is ‘a beautiful tapestry’ with ‘many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.’” Why the Haye’s twins stuck to the same-old-same-old with their fictional bits, should make one wonder. (Maybe they should put down Blake Snyder’s overly abused Save the Cat, and do something less Hollywood formulaic.)

Regardless of the weaknesses of the writing team, James Wan proves he’s no George Lucas, and can definitely direct children (six of them in this case). But the strength of the tale rests in the hands of the story’s key performers: the always fabulous Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren, rock solid Patrick Wilson as her husband, Ed, and Lili Taylor who steals the show with her emotionally driven performance as Carolyn Perron. All the actors in the film are fully engaged and keep our blood pumping at every turn.

The special effects, whether practical or CGI based, work well with the perfect lighting and color, and sometimes intriguing camera angles thanks to cinematographer John R. Leonetti (INSIDIOUS, PIRANHA, DEAD SILENCE, and others), which only enhance the off-kilter temperament of the goings-on. One of my favorite scenes involves Judy Warren (Sterling Jerins), traipsing through the Warren home in the wee hours – beautiful work. Horror music maestro, Joseph Bishara (INSIDIOUS, DARK SKIES, NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and more) delivers once again, though he and Wan make certain the music does not interfere with the spooky bits, which would have made this a truly run of the mill cheap thrill ride.

As for “scares,” the movie has three memorable ones, and two come at the equivalent of a head fake, adding to the impact. Again, however, due to the trite nature of the story, this prevents THE CONJURING from being a true ghost story standout. Since most horror movies are pure garbage, thanks to shallow-minded filmmaking, I can understand why so many fans of the genre might say this is an amazing venture when it’s only just “very good.”

If the story had offered something new and interesting, a higher rating would be warranted, but when one watches the third act, and can clearly see what’s coming, that deflates the balloon of suspense regardless of the emotional torrent conjured up by the actors. THE CONJURING certainly is no waste of money, but to place it on a pedestal is a rush to judgment simply because horror fans want something better. Sadly, THE CONJURING isn’t it.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team: Kid In Play (Part II) – Guest Post from R. S. Brzoska

Like any artist, it’s worthwhile for a horror writer considering using the child-in-peril   15-Andrew-Miller-Kazan-The-Cube  trope to think roundly about both what his/her audience expects and what the story’s needs are. How far are you willing to go? How comfortable are you with going there?

As hinted at in part one, child harm is a huge cultural and psychological taboo. The very idea induces anxiety in most people. Take a look at the train station shoot-out in Brian DePalma’s great The Untouchables:

UNTOUCHABLES-Train Station Shoot-out

Here, DePalma adds an extra layer of suspense to an already tense scene through the simple addition of a child in a carriage. Note how never once, in the midst of all the carnage, does DePalma let the audience lose track of the carriage—even with all the gunfire, the pram wheels on the stairs can be heard clunking metronomically in the background throughout the scene. We even see a bullet pass through the stroller, only to be granted some relief a few seconds later with a cut to the still-intact infant inside. That relief is short-lived, however, as we’re only reminded by that bullet how mortally serious the situation is.

The scene is executed perfectly and the child-in-peril trope is used to excellent effect. After being put through the wringer, the audience is allowed to breathe easier at scene’s end. The baby is safe, the good guys win. But isn’t it weird that we feel this sort of anxiety over ninety seconds of a baby carriage bouncing down the stairs, yet we don’t quite feel the same way about films like The Hunger Games[i], A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th—which also feature children-in-peril?

Why is that? Well, there are two concepts at work here and both are central to dramatic horror: Innocence and Agency.

Let’s start with Innocence, which we can define (as per Dictionary.com, thank you very much) as any combination of these applicable qualities: Absence of Sin, Naivety, Lack of Guile, A Dearth of Knowledge or Undertstanding, Guiltlessness. Innocence is important dramatically because, by and large, people want to see bad people get punished and good people rewarded. In short, we like to see victims deserve their fate in horror movies as they so often don’t in real life. We also tend to feel unconsciously and preternaturally protective of The Innocent. And young children are the very embodiment of Innocence in all its facets. The quality of Innocence is why the virgin always seems to live in slasher films and why it feels so satisfying to watch (SPOILER ALERT) the character of Kazan walk away unscathed in 1997’s Cube.

The other side to the same metaphorical coin is Agency, which we can define simply as the ability to make moral decisions and act independently. Part of the fun of watching horror movies comes from watching people fight back against a malevolent force. Or at least be able to flee from it. In a nutshell, Agency means characters are at least somewhat responsible for their fate.

What we find is that the properties of Agency and Innocence tend to be to some degree inversely proportional. A character with a high degree of Agency tends to lack perceived Innocence while the most Innocent characters tend to lack a high degree of Agency.[ii] Infants and small children tend to lack Agency and are therefore Innocent and vulnerable. Your standard teenager, however, has a high degree of Agency, just like an adult. Our protective instincts aren’t engaged. Hence, we squirm mightily through a ninety-second carriage scene, but eat popcorn through ninety minutes of teen carnage.

Then, of course, there are the in-betweeners. The kids like Glen, Al, and Terry in 1987’s The Gate, or Regan in The Exorcist or Cole in The Sixth Sense. Kids between the ages of eight and fourteen, who are in many ways naïve to the world, yet have the capacity to be intelligent actors therein. The can be knowledgeable but have a limited capacity to act on that knowledge. Or they can be naifish, with enough ability to impulsively act to imperil themselves or others. They are complex and ambiguous in ways adults cannot be. They can also engage our protective instinct to some degree.

The end result is that we end up with three broad but essential categories when it comes to child characters:

  1. Those with a high degree of Innocence/low degree of Agency (infants, small children, the mentally/physically disabled).
  2. Those with a high degree of Agency/mixed degrees of Innocence (Late teens).
  3. Those with some degree of Agency/some degree of Innocence (children roughly between the ages of eight and fourteen, the mentally/physically disabled).

Each of these categories can fulfill a base dramatic need or the author or screenwriter. Each has its pros and its cons. We’ll look at those in more detail next.

[i] I want to take a moment here and acknowledge the weird genius of The Hunger Games (and, by association, Japan’s Battle Royale) and the way it squirmily induces its audience to root for child-murder by way of rooting for Katniss.

[ii] This can include not only small children, but the mentally and/or physically disabled as well. The example that jumps immediately to mind would be the character of Jakob Trimble from the 2011 film Scalene.

(Photo of Kazan from CUBE by Logsoku.com.)

Crash Analysis: SINISTER (2012)

Smart to derivative in three acts 

Egomaniacal writer endangers family 

SINISTER had such promise: A strong beginning, relatable yet interesting characters, great dialogue, Ethan Hawke’s spot-on acting, and some rock solid, if not disturbing intrigue.

The first act alone is enough to make horror fans twinge from delight. After all, a noted but struggling true crime author just moved his family into a house of horror where another family had been butchered, and one child kidnapped. Oh, and his wife and two children don’t have a clue about their new homestead. Then again, Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) has let his ego get the best of him, and wants to bounce back from the writing doldrums with a new, killer hit.

Sadly, after a smart and enticing first act, the second phase of the picture also heads down the path of writing doldrums. Writers Scott Derrickson (who also directed), and fellow scribe C. Robert Cargill, lost their collective sense of creativity and imagination. Instead of delivering a strong finish with a chilling climax, the story’s end is telegraphed a mile away. Besides seeing it all coming, the scares waned thanks to trite and hackneyed storytelling. Then again, Derrickson has little to celebrate from previous horror ventures. Responsible for the likes of URBAN LEGEND: THE FINAL CUT (2000), HELLRAISER: INFERNO (2000), and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), he has yet to deliver a full-blown, quality driven narrative for audiences. SINISTER is Cargill’s first writing project, but he’s rejoined Derrickson for the upcoming WHEN GRAVITY FAILS, which should be out in 2014. Will they let us down again?

Hawke’s the cornerstone of the movie, and holds up his part of the bargain as he carries the story on his back, only to trudge along in the third act as if hauling bricks like a broken Atlas. He shines brightly, but the story lets him down, and the writers only have themselves to blame. James Ransone plays the awkward, nerdy, Barney Fife like deputy, who’s ultimately more intelligent than he seems. This one element, the “dumb” character, undermined the seriousness of the film, and signaled that the entire story was about to unravel. Although the acting was strong throughout SINISTER, especially from the great Fred Dalton Thompson as the Sheriff, Juliet Rylance, who played the wife, came up short as the concerned wife. In the end, she’s too melodramatic.

Chris Norr, however, delivers some decent cinematography, especially concerning the use of darkness where he captures a great balance between what is, and what is not seen.

This is one horror that will leave most viewers angry. After all, genius became mediocrity, as if Derrickson is an alchemist in reverse who has the power to turn gold into lead. Such a shame and such a let down.

2.5 out of 5 stars