|Abortion Girl: the most coveted role in Hell House|
The Amityville Horror
A clueless family move into a house where a mass murder occurred, and weird stuff starts to happen. I remembered this film as actually being quite scary, but not very far in this time I was exclaiming to Tim: "This is So. Fucking. Tedious." It's not scary, it's boring, it's bad, and it's TWO HOURS LONG. The only explanation I can have for its popularity at the time is (cue italics) 70s zeitgeist. Really, don't bother. If you just look at a picture of the creepy house, that's at least as much as you'll get out of the film. As Roger Ebert said: "The horror in this movie, alas, isn't a bad guy at all. Doesn't have a shape or a face or a personality. Is a presence that causes the worst sorts of things to happen. Who upsets the dog and causes doors to bang open and make the house too cold all the time, and in short, makes things just like Chicago."
Suitable, I thought, for Halloween-month is this documentary following the yearly creation of 'Hell House', a Texan pentecostal church's "modern" take on a house of horrors: but in this case the 'horrors' include what afterlife fate befalls you if you have an abortion/are gay/take-drugs-and-get-raped (the rape is your fault because drugs)/read Harry Potter/play Magic: The Gathering, etc. I watched this on SBS (I think) quite a few years ago, and was drawn in initially by the participants' commitment to the production, juxtaposed with the fundamentalist glee with which they approach their parts: who will be 'abortion girl' this year? It's a full scale production, but despite the overacting, jump-scares (that genuinely frighten some of the hell house visitors), and the dreadful Satan ("YOU KILLED YOUR BABY, JAN!"), for me the scariest bit is at the end of the horror show, where the kids are chatted to in an overlit ordinary room by an imposing "friendly" bloke, and offered the chance to redeem themselves by going into a private room to pray with members of the church. Or they can choose to leave immediately, and, you know, forsake their souls. The backstage focus on one particular family centres the film: a dad single-parenting a bunch of children, several with special needs, whose wife left him under mumblemumble circumstances and took the kids for a bit mumblemumble but now he has won them back. The portrayal of this family sits uncomfortably alongside the work that they do: judgments can be easily made.
Spirits of the Dead
An old favourite of mine from my taping-things-off-the-telly-when-Warrnambool-first-got-SBS days: three Edgar Allen Poe stories re-imagined by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Frederico Fellini. The Vadim one, otherwise known as "the one with Jane Fonda in lots of racy outfits", is the one that everyone hates, but really, there's a lot of Jane Fonda on a horse and Peter Fonda AS the horse, and the costumes are brilliant, so what's not to like? Malle's take on 'William Wilson' is really promising (the threat of live human medical dissections scared the crap out of me, despite knowing there couldn't be too much gore at this rating), but the ending just makes you go: 'Oh. Well. That's a bit shit, isn't it.' Fellini's version of Poe's 'Never bet the devil your head', however, is totally brilliant: nightmarish, gibbering, oddly coloured, drunkenly beardy, and the only film of the three to totally nail the ending.
A Spanish reporter is following a fire-crew on their calls, hoping for a little excitement but not really expecting anything. They're called to an apartment block where it seems an elderly woman has locked herself inside her house and isn't responding, so the fire crew break in. THEN HORROR AND BITING. When they escape the staggery bloodthirsty geriatric, they discover the whole apartment building has been sealed off from the outside by authorities. So that's not good. [REC] takes the found footage idea and really works it well: the POV isn't so jerky as to cause much sea-sickness, there's a lot of great use made out of different lighting and camera scenarios, and I basically CLUTCHED at Tim's arm from the first bite to the last. It's a really decent modern horror film, and those can be hard to come by.
A recommendation from our friend @ernmalleyscat, this film proved to be an excellent Australian sleeper. A family is devastated when their daughter Alice drowns in a dam on holiday with her family. Even after Alice's body is found and laid to rest, she seems to pop up in photos and footage taken by the family: until her brother is discovered faking the ghostly appearances. Or...is he? This is an underrated emotional sort-of-ghost story that presents itself again through found footage: news reports, Australian Story-style grief-porn, interviews, photographs, and bad-quality phone footage. It's both touching, frightening, and deeply sad: less a horror movie than a meditation on fear, grief, and the ways we try to capture what we can't let go of.