All Good Things in The Conjuring

The Conjuring Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren with sincerity in THE CONJURING

When the close-knit Perron clan (headed by a laid back Ron Livingston and lovely earthy Lili Taylor) move into a bucolic New England home on a deceptively serene lake, it’s not long before this old house they bought at auction begins raising hell.  Who you gonna call in the era before basic cable paranormal investigators?  Ed and Lorraine Warren – played in their pre-Amityville Horror days by Patrick Wilson (partially raised eyebrows and all manly reactions) and Vera Farmiga (wily, caring and determined).  The spectacular scenario is wisely set up by jumping back and forth between the two families who soon collide in a supernatural cataclysm.

The Conjuring, James Wan’s startling and enormously entertaining Destroy All Ghosts! story, plays like a montage of horror’s greatest hits from the past twenty years. Continue reading

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Mama Say Mama Don’t

Why the hell did I agree to be in this?

Why the hell did I agree to be in this?

It might only be the third weekend of January, but the new horror flick Mama is already in the running for worst film of the year. These type of children obsessed ghost stories (dating back to The Ring) are a dime a dozen, and they are usually awful but harmless. Mama, on the other hand, refuses to rest on its clichéd laurels, and instead defies all logic and genre conventions to deliver not one, but two, overly convoluted (and downright stupid) back-stories to explain its improbable tale. Which isn’t to say the film (if it can even be called a film) doesn’t shove every cliché down our throat from the creepy kid (times two!) to the insane-for-no-reason-other-than-the-plot-mother to the weird-noise-making-bending-backwards-ghost.

Continue reading

Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?

Traversing the Treacherous Geography of Childhood in Lady in White

Do you see what I see?

Do you see what I see?

Frank LaLoggia’s forgotten classic from 1988, Lady in White, opens with a Stephen King-style novelist returning to his hometown of Willowpoint to visit a gravesite.  From there we’re whisked back to 1962 when our protagonist Frankie Scarlatti was 10 years-old living with his widowed father and smart-aleck older brother.  One fateful Halloween, a couple of childhood chums play a prank and lock poor Frankie in the coat closet at school where he must brave the night cold and alone.  There he witnesses the mysterious ghost of a little girl act out her murder – and from there young Frankie becomes determined to help the ghost find peace, uncover the identity of the town’s serial child killer and solve the mystery of the town legend of The Lady of White (which is somehow connected to the killings).

The ghost hums the eerily nostalgic Bing Crosby tune, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” – the killer’s favorite – and the song is used as a powerful motif throughout the film. Continue reading

Spotlight on the Independent Arts: The Skeptic

***This is the first post in a new feature I plan to showcase here at The Schleicher Spin called Spotlight on the Independent Arts.  

The goal is to give exposure to, encourage collaboration with, and provide honest critiques for independent artists.  I hope to feature filmmakers, writers, photographers, painters and musicians.  As an independent author, I feel it’s important to support and celebrate those working independently to forge their careers in the arts.   

If you are an independent artist interested in having your film, book, music or art considered by The Schleicher Spin for a Spotlight feature, please submit a comment. 

The first entry will focus on the IFC film, The Skeptic, written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell. 

The Skeptic

Independent Film The Skeptic 

The Lowdown:  An emotionless lawyer (Tim Daly) inherits the creepy, old house of his recently deceased aunt.  To get away from his crumbling marriage, he moves into the house and quickly encounters strange occurrences and uncovers family secrets which challenge his militant skepticism of all things paranormal.  Continue reading

Turning the Screws

Henry James’  classic novella from 1898, “The Turn of the Screw” opens with a group of friends discussing ghost stories:

“I quite agree–in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was-that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch.  But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have been concerned with a child.  If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children–?”

“We say of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that two children give two turns!  Also we want to hear about them.”

Whereas Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula is most thought of as the ultimate example of a horror story expressing the dangers of Victorian Era repression, there is no tale more subtly crafted around the theme than Henry James’ ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.”

What has kept readers like myself up all night lost within its pages is the slow, methodical pacing and build-up that lead to a shocking climax.  Part of the suspense is in laboring through James’ carefully constructed, sophisticated, overly wordy, and charmingly antiquated prose.  You read on because you get a creeping sense of the disturbing subtexts while waiting almost painfully for something to happen at the end of all this analysis and talk.

Reading the novella in turn brought me to watch the 1961 film adaptation The Innocents.  It astounds as one of the best examples of a film honoring the spirit of its literary source material while standing alone as something purely cinematic.  It’s also creepy as hell in that very reserved old fashioned Victorian Era kind of way.  I highly recommend reading the novella first, and then viewing the film to compare and contrast.

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CAPTION:  Oh, let’s not get hysteric.  What would Freud say?

Atmospheric Translation of Classic Ghost Story, 5 May 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is a wonderfully atmospheric film translation of Henry James’ classic Victorian Era ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.” Highlighted by stunning black-and-white cinematography from Freddie Francis (who later worked on David Lynch’s The Elephant Man) and fabulous set designs, The Innocents stays very close to James’ text while adding a few cinematic elements (like the music box, highly suggestive visual symbolism, and the reading of a macabre poem) as it weaves its tale of a governess (Deborah Kerr) trying to unravel the mystery surrounding some strange apparitions on a lavish country estate where she cares for two young children displaying some odd behavior.

The brilliance of the film and the original story is in the ambiguity. There are two logical interpretations: the governess is slowly going mad, or the estate is haunted. Regardless of which interpretation you take, there is still plenty of room to intertwine the disturbing Freudian subtexts involving the governess’ repressed emotions and what the children have actually seen, heard, known, or experienced. I can’t think of a more refined or subtle exploration of what happens when an adult transfers or projects their own psychological hang-ups onto children in their charge than James’ quietly suspenseful potboiler.

The performances are a bit melodramatic at times, but note perfect in their proper context, with Kerr prissy but sympathetic and the children expertly performing the sudden turns from innocent angels to sinister manipulators. The Innocents does feature some dated sound effects that come across as annoying rather than creepy, but the visuals and the shrieking climax are what will stick with the viewer. Unlike recent (and for the most part very worthy) modern updates on the story like The Others and The Orphanage where a twist ending reveals the only true interpretation of the ghastly events, The Innocents leaves it all to the imagination of the viewer. The imagination, it seems, can be a very dangerous thing with which to play.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055018/usercomments-130

A Review of Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”

 

Beautifully Sad Catholic Fairy Tale, 14 January 2008
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the orphanage she spent time in as a child with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and little boy Simon (Roger Princep) in hopes of re-establishing it as seaside retreat for children with disabilities only to find there may be some former residents who never left. In Juan Antonio Bayona’s tightly wound “The Orphanage” nothing is as it seems and child’s play takes on sinister overtones.

Bayona belongs to this new wave of Spanish-language directors (most notably Del Torro and Amenabar) who excel when it comes to creating moody atmospheric tales of the supernatural with Catholic overtones. Whereas “Pan’s Labyrinth” took a dark fantasy approach to a Passion Play, “The Orphanage” is closer to the classic haunted house themes of “The Others” as it attempts to give a sentimental view of life after death. Be warned, “The Orphanage” is often more sad than scary, and those not familiar with Catholic mysticism might find things a bit hard to believe. As goes the film’s mantra…Believe, Then You Will See. Those with the patience and the heart will be greatly rewarded as the audience doesn’t necessarily have to Believe to relate to the characters who do.

Working from refined “less is more” psychological horror templates, Bayona delivers the formulaic goods. There will be a simplistic but heartfelt exploration of grief. There will be allusions to classic literature (in this case a very nicely done “Peter Pan” as Catholic allegory motif). There will be uncovering dark secrets from the past. There will be precocious children with spooky imaginary friends. There will be creaking set designs and manipulative sound effects to create “gotcha!” moments. There will be a creepy medium (an excellent Geraldine Chaplin) brought in for a séance. And there will be a twist at the end.

Thankfully, there is also a great performance from Belen Rueda as Laura. She gives a compelling portrayal of a woman devoured by her loss and achingly desperate for the truth no matter how horrific that truth might be. One must have a cold heart not to find sympathy with her, and even the most hardened audience member will find it hard not to feel that stray tear form in the corner of their trembling eye when all is revealed. “The Orphanage” offers nothing terribly new, but sometimes the same old ghost story presented in a beautiful way makes for the best type of cold-rainy-day entertainment.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0464141/usercomments-40