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Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror

A group of orphans and a nun battle a demonic force personified by a creepy-looking doll in this latest installment of the The Conjuring UniverseAnnabelle: Creation is a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014), a fictional account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battle with an allegedly possessed Raggedy Ann doll. This film departs entirely from reality, imagining an origin story for the doll. Both critics and audiences seem to enjoy it. Overall, it had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well.

Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. Both Dauberman and Sandberg are relatively new to their craft. Dauberman is known for previously writing Annabelle (2014) and the low-budget Swamp Devil (2008), and Sandberg has directed several short films and Lights Out (2016).

The filmmakers’ inexperience is probably why this movie doesn’t take any risks. It is a strictly paint-by-numbers modern American horror film. It is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes. Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.

Also, someone should tell the filmmakers that Catholic nuns can’t hear sacramental confessions. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop can hear confessions and absolve sins.

Though Annabelle: Creation adds nothing new to the genre, its popularity shows this is what horror audiences want to see. It opened at the top of the box office, pulling in approximately $35 million its opening weekend. Anecdotal evidence also attest to the film’s popularity. The theater was packed when I went to see it, in stark contrast to Detroit (a far superior movie).

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First Impressions of Annabelle: Creation

I watched Annabelle: Creation this weekend, a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014). It’s the first horror movie I’ve seen since last year, and I read several reviews praising it for improving on the original. Honestly, I never saw the original and I’m not a fan of the “The Conjuring Universe” (although I did enjoy The Conjuring). Overall, Annabelle: Creation had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well. Here are some of my first impressions:

  • Annabelle: Creation only warrants an ‘R’ rating for a handful of gory scenes that could have easily been toned down to make it PG-13. In other words, if your movie is going to be rated R, make it rated R. This prequel-sequel relies primarily on thrills; it isn’t gratuitously violent, has no nudity, and there isn’t even any swearing in it.
  • The movie is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes.
  • Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.
  • Religious imagery, prayers, and exorcism/binding only seems to work when it’s convenient for the plot.
  • Lulu Wilson, who plays a courageous girl named Linda, was also in Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), which just happened to be the last horror movie I saw in theaters. She’s a talented young actress who I hope eventually breaks out of the horror genre.
  • The film reminded me of the most terrifying episode of a children’s show I’ve ever seen: an episode of Webster called “Moving On,” which aired just after Halloween in 1984. Webster explores an old Victorian house with a room that’s always locked. Inside, there’s a life-sized doll sitting in a rocking chair. It scared the shit out of me as a kid.
  • Did Annabelle need so many characters? At least two of six orphans are kinda just “there” and don’t contribute anything to the plot.
  • I did appreciate the inclusion at the end of a Raggedy Ann doll that looked like the real Annabell doll, as opposed to the sinister, wooden prop used for most of the movie.

Look for a full review coming soon!

An Honest Assessment of Get Out

getoutWritten and directed by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele and MADtv, Get Out (2017) is the story of a young interracial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), meeting Rose’s parents for the first time. By all appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) have no idea Chris is black. They seem to be friendly and progressive, if not awkward, but all is not what it seems.

This is Peele’s first film, and it has gotten nearly universally positive reviews, which I’ll admit, perplexed me at first. When I saw the preview, I thought it was a joke, like the horror movie spoof “Ghost Tits.” It looked like something from MADtv or The Chappelle Show, which makes sense since Jordan Peele is mostly known for sketch comedy. Critics said Get Out was “the smartest horror movie in ages,” “fresh and sharp,” and “masterfully and subtly crafted.” I had to see if it lived up to the hype.

Critics love to exaggerate positives and negatives, and there’s definitely some of that going on with these reviews, but Get Out is a solid, well crafted horror film. The preview doesn’t do it justice. The music, scares, characters, editing, foreshadowing, actors and actresses–all of it works.

The characters are genuinely creepy. We’ve all walked into situations where we had to meet people for the first time and they were a little odd or off putting. Get Out ratchets up that feeling and adds a racial element into the mix to make it more believable. The audience second guesses themselves along with the main character. Is there something wrong with these folks, or is it just culture shock?

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A Cure for Wellness

cureforwellnessofficialposterFebruary has not been a good month for movies. One bright spot was A Cure for Wellness, directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe. Verbinski directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Ring, and Rango, and Haythe is mostly known for adapting Revolutionary Road for the screen. A Cure for Wellness is a classic Gothic tale, with elements of Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

A Cure for Wellness centers on an ambitious young Wall Street executive named Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener), from a health spa/hospital built on castle ruins at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. Once there, he breaks his leg in a car accident, and the director, Dr. Heinreich Volmer (Jason Isaacs), invites him to stay and partake in “the cure.”

Over the course of a few days, he learns the castle’s gruesome history, and meets a mysterious young woman named Hannah (Mia Goth). Two hundred years ago, the castle’s baron tried to conceive a child with his sister to keep the family bloodline pure. The outraged villagers stormed the castle, murdered the baroness, and burnt the castle to the ground. All is not what it seems at Volmer Institute, and Lockhart must get to the bottom of it before it claims him as well.

There’s a lot going on in this movie. Philosophically, it criticizes modern society and treats ambition as a disease. One character literally works himself to death in the opening credits, and wealthy patients flock to the Volmer Institute and its idyllic surroundings to avoid a similar fate. There is a stark contrast between the “pure,” romantic world of the Institute, and the village below, with its dirty residents and nihilistic youth.

As the villagers once burned the castle in anger, we have, Dr. Volmer argues, overthrown aristocracy and dethroned God, so all we have left is to worship naked ambition. Dr. Volmer, however, is no crusader. He exploits this modern condition to satisfy motives that are, shall we say, less than pure.

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Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom

Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.

Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom

six_tales_of_terror_cover3With the exception of a Channel 57 news van and three other cars, Brenham Community College’s parking lot was as empty as it usually was on any particular Friday night. A row of security floodlights illuminated the entrance to the science building, where a reporter named Gerald Waller and his cameraman stood impatiently. A golf cart with “security” stenciled on the door puttered toward them.

They had been waiting over ten minutes before the golf cart slid to a halt next to a row of Juniper bushes that marked the edge of the parking lot. A paunchy security guard with blonde hair and an equally blonde mustache threw open his vehicle’s wire door and strode arrogantly over to the waiting visitors.

“It’s about time,” Waller hissed to himself, unconcerned if anyone overheard him. He marched up to the security guard and thrust his index finger in the air. “I’m here to interview professor Hanft,” he said. “But these doors were locked when I got here.”

The security guard, with a nametag that read “Roy” stitched onto his tan uniform, casually detached a set of keys from a clip on his belt. “Yall just be patient,” he said with a strong Appalachian accent. “I’ll take you to the professor.” He strode over to the glass doors and unlocked them with the speed of a government employee.

Waller motioned for his cameraman to come with as he followed the guard into the well-lit hallway and towards the student laboratories. He had been sent to the community college to cover Professor Robt Hanft’s latest research into using local cave fungus to cure Maripose syndrome, a rare but serious illness of the renal vein. It wasn’t as exciting as covering the miner’s strike a few miles away, but it wasn’t mopping the floor of the men’s bathroom at the TV station either.

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Lair in the Mouth of Evil

Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.

Lair in the Mouth of Evil

six_tales_of_terror_cover3Wayne Blagg worked diligently in the bowels of the Lawrence B. Hamlin Medical Research Center, which was located across from the New Dawn Christian Bookstore on the third floor of the Cheapside Mall. He had been hired for an internship there to assist in a cutting edge of biotechnology: reanimating deceased pets, which attracted millions of dollars in grants every year.

He was currently fixing a Golden Retriever some state senator’s daughter lost to a pool-related accident. The process was long and complicated. The dog had been frozen, shipped to the research center, and Wayne was in the midst of replacing its old blood with new, super-oxygenated blood. If he was interrupted for any reason, the consequences could be disastrous not only for the project, but also for his career prospects.

It was then that a whine pierced the air and interrupted his thoughts. “What do ya mean I can’t go in there?” the high-pitched voice yelled. “I can go anywhere I want!”

Wayne growled and tried to focus on the work at hand. The temperature had to remain constant or the animal would start to decay, and it couldn’t be resuscitated if there was any cellular degeneration.

“Ma’am, I can’t let you in,” a man’s voice shouted in the other room. His statement was followed by a series of alternating light and heavy footsteps that came closer and closer.

“I want to watch!” the girl yelled as the door to the lab burst open.

Wayne lost his concentration and bumped the temperature gauge. “Damn it!” he cursed before quickly correcting the mistake.

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