27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Seven

Originally Published Saturday 1st November 2008

30 Days of Night

The final film in this series is the one that kinda gave its name to the whole project, and I kept the best for last.

30 Days of Night is based on the comic of the same name that tells of the town of Barrow in Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Barrow is so far north that during the winter the sun doesn’t rise for a month, a whole 30 Days of Night. This makes Barrow the ideal holiday destination for the discerning vampire seeing as how they will be free to roam without the pesky sun ruining their feeding. A bunch of vampires have travelled to Barrow and are ready to attack the unsuspecting townsfolk just as the sun sets.

Barrow’s sheriff, Eben (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella along with some of the inhabitants of the town hide and try to survive in hidden attics and other concealed places waiting for the sun to come up. The vampires are organised and especially cruel, using family members to try to lure people out of hiding, and when they figure that there are survivors holding out on them they break open a nearby oil pipeline in an effort to burn the town and cover their tracks. It’s up to Eben to stop the vampires but he has to pay an incredibly high price to do so.

The Barrow Tourist Board’s new spokesman has a tough first day!

The 30 Days story is a simple one just like the comic which you’d read cover to cover in minutes. The film remains loyal to the core story but removes the vampire hunters from New Orleans that feature in the comic – though those characters are in the mini-series prequel. The townsfolk being left to fend for themselves makes 30 Days more like a traditional horror as opposed to a vampire hunter story with the town in the middle. The loyalty to the comic works so well considering how it ends which is the same in the film as the book and so tragic it elevates the film well above the run of the mill vampire tales.

The performances in 30 Days are solid and Hartnett is surprisingly good as the sheriff. Melissa George as Stella is pretty decent too, but I wonder how she’d fare out if they were to make any of the sequels, where she’s the hero. The star of the show however is the town itself. Barrow and the surrounding barren wastes of Alaska are shown in amazing different shades of grey but look enticing, Barrow looks like somewhere you could really live, despite the cold and vampires.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for 30 Days of Night.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Six

Originally Published Friday 31st October 2008

Interview with the Vampire

Anyone who produces any creative piece of work like a film, or a book, or a song, or a comic, or whatever, needs to be careful with their subject matter whenever they stray from the considered norms of society. When Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere he said one of his concerns was about making homelessness seem cool, anyone who makes an action film or gangster film has to be careful that they don’t make that lifestyle appealing. When Ridley Scott made Black Hawk Down he set out to make an anti-war film but ended up making one of the greatest recruitment films of all time.

The vampire lifestyle has its obvious appeals, immortality, eternal youth, beauty, sensuality, strength and power, can be all too enticing for the victims in the stories and in Interview with the Vampire, we get an insight into those characteristics as well as the terrible downsides to vampirism.

As the title suggests, the film details an interview a writer is conducting with a vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt) who is telling his life story (or rather his death story as it only gets interesting once he’s a vampire). Louis was made a vampire by Lestat (Tom Cruise) a vampire hedonist in need of a companion. Louis struggles with what he has become and refuses to kill, despite the terrible bloodthirst that comes with the territory. Louis is overcome with his new state and burns down his house out of sorrow and anger.

Louis and Lestat flee to New Orleans and there Lestat kills all round him while Louis sticks to feeding off animals. One night, Louis is overcome by hunger and ends up feeding on a young girl whose mother had died of plague. Lestat seizes the opportunity this presents and makes the girl a vampire too, to provide Louis with more suitable company and to stop Louis from ever splitting on him (kinda like when some skank gets herself knocked up so as to stop the boyfriend from leaving). This plan works and Louis begins to feed on humans as he provides for his new “daughter” Claudia.

30 years pass, with none of the gang getting older. This is particularly hard on Claudia who is trapped in the body of a little girl. Things come to a head when she tricks Lestat into feeding off two dead boys, the blood of the dead being a poison of sorts to vampires. She and Louis flee and go on the search of others of their kind, always fearful that Lestat will return. Finally arriving in Paris they encounter a group of vampires pretending to be human pretending to be vampires lead by Armand (Antonio Banderas). He wants Louis to be his companion in the same way Lestat did and so turns a blind eye when the other vampires kill Claudia to get her off the scene. Disgusted, Louis murders the vampires and abandons Armand.

Louis travels the world but never encounters another vampire until his eventual return to America where he finds a decrepit Lestat hiding in a rundown house feeding off rats. Here, Louis concludes his tale leaving the reporter (Christian Slater) wanting more, desiring to be a vampire and fearful of them too… until Lestat shows up.

Despite the scene having ended, for some reason Tom was reluctant to let Brad up, not that Tom Cruise is gay or anything…

Interview is an amazing film, delighting in all that’s bad and attractive about Vampires at the same time. The little touches, like Claudia’s coffin, are what make you take notice of how horrific their life is but all the while you are assaulted with images of beauty and glamour and glimpses of a hidden world that make you wonder if it’s all that bad being a creature of the night. The only complaint I have is that while Interview talks about the loneliness of a vampires existence, it never manages to convince you that it’s all that bad, I suppose it would have made for a far more boring movie if it had.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Interview with the Vampire!

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Five

Originally Published Thursday 30th October 2008

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula is the foundation upon which many of the modern vampire stories are based. Written in the final years of the nineteenth century by Bram Stoker, a drunken Irishman (I don’t know if he was really a drunk but considering the material in his novel and the rumours of his membership of occult organisations he’d better have a bloody good excuse for his behaviour and being a piss-head is a decent excuse for anything), Dracula has laid down what are now considered to be the common rules for vampires – drinking blood, coffins, bats, stakes, and the like, so it’s impact on horror cannot be underestimated. Due to it’s important place in the annuls of horror there are of course multiple film adaptations and spin offs, and like Frankenstein and Werewolves, Dracula got an updated “official” remake during the 1990’s.

Following the plot of the novel, Dracula tells of the fall of the Transylvanian warlord during the fifteenth century after his wife kills herself and is eternally damned. Dracula (or Dracul, or Vlad, or whatever) turn his back on the Church and promises to rise from the grave in order to get a little revenge. The story moves forward to 1897 (the year the book was first published) where we meet Jonathon Harker and his bride to be Mina. Harker is sent to Transylvania to sort out a real estate deal for Count Dracula (who as far as anyone is concerned at this point is just wacky eastern Eurotrash ) who is buying up property in London. Harker goes and gets the job done but the Count refuses to let him leave after seeing a picture of Harker’s missus-to-be, Mina who Dracula believes to be his long dead wife. Harker slowly grows wise to Dracula and tries to escape the castle.

Meanwhile, Dracula travels to London to hook up with Mina and while working on that he has a go on her friend Lucy, alternating between engaging in depraved acts of sexual theatre and drinking her blood. Lucy’s worried suitors call for help from noted quack Abraham Van Helsing who diagnoses a case of vampire attack. Dracula takes his interest in Lucy to the next level and bumps her off, making her a vampire. The lads decide to take drastic action and kill her with a trusty stake and a quick decapitation. Mina, who has travelled to Transylvania to collect her boyfriend after he escaped the castle, returns with him, freshly married, to London. Dracula makes another move on Mina and despite her marriage she’s up for it – but just as she’s about to put out, the boys burst in, ready to kill Dracula.

Drac splits for home and the lads give chase, divided into two groups, they follow Dracula to his castle for the big showdown.

Many stores beef up security when Wynona’s around, but there’s no need to get this angry about it!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well made, artistic, sensual film that is mostly loyal to the core story of the original novel. The film, like the book, uses readings from diaries, letters, case notes, ships logs, and other media to progress the story and this gives the impression of a true story being presented. The cinematography is fantastic, giving a moody, surreal impression of late Victorian London. Costume, music, and most of the special effects are great, though the rings of blue fire outside the castle near the beginning are a little off.

What lets down Dracula in a very bad way is the choice of actors. Keanu Reeves as Harker was a woeful mistake, and his performance is barely watchable, not to mention his British accent. At that stage in his career he was best known for Point Break and the Bill & Ted movies – what possessed them to cast him as Harker? Almost as bad is Wynona Ryder as Mina, here’s a girl that Vlad has pursued past the walls of death and time and she’s played by a shoplifting skank? Finally, Cary Elwes as one of the (British) suitors is pretty bad. It’s a safe bet that the casting decisions were based on financial appeal in the US as opposed to getting the best performances. Gary Oldman as the Count and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing were the highlights and perfectly cast, shame about the rest.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Four

Originally Published Wednesday 29th October 2008

From Dusk till Dawn

Whichever way you cut it, Quentin Tarantino is a tosser. He’s made one or two decent movies but for the most part he’s a self-obsessed twat who drags up obscure material from the 1970’s and rams it down your throat in a desperate attempt to feel relevant and cool. Then, he wrote “From Dusk till Dawn” and all his sins were forgiven, including his performance in the movie!

Dusk till Dawn follows the Gekko brothers, Seth and Richie, two bad ass bank robbers on the run from the law and heading to Mexico to a safe haven they have lined up. Along the way they encounter the Fuller family, a preacher who has lost his faith as a result of his wife’s tragic death, and his son and daughter, Scott and Kate. The Gekko’s take these three hostage as part of a ploy to get safely across the Mexican border.

Once in Mexico the group hold up in a wild bar with a great name – The Titty Twister. Seth and Richie, though now safe from the law, are constantly on edge and are unable to avoid trouble, getting into a row in the bar that sparks off the shock revelation that the place is crawling with vampires! With their secret out, the creatures of the night kill all round them, leaving an ever decreasing number of survivors to make funny remarks about their situation until we are left with Kate and Seth to face the hoards of the undead alone.

One for the ladies, but fellas, listen close!

Dusk till Dawn is a simple vampire tale where everyone (nearly) gets murdered. What makes it such a joy is the level of humour involved, not so much as to push it into out and out comedy territory but enough to make it nicely quotable. The vampires characters are exaggerated caricatures of the person they are based on and the humans are pretty much the same only without the make up, Fred Williamson as the troubled Vietnam veteran is a prime example as is the biker, Sex Machine with his amazing weaponry.

On the acting side there are some let downs. Juliette Lewis is a skank and should not be allowed to be in films, academy award nomination or not, she’s just rotten. Tarantino is such a pleb of an actor it’s easy to see how he only ever gets screen time in films he’s either written, produced, or directed himself. George Clooney on the other hand is brilliant as Seth, the ultimate bad ass, or as he says himself, a bastard, but not a fucking bastard!

Two Thumbs Up for From Dusk till Dawn.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Three

Originally Published Tuesday 28th October 2008

Van Helsing

Horror has so many classic characters, mostly from nineteenth century literature based on old folk stories and legends. Characters like Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman are part of our collective culture, they have been with us all since childhood despite their horror credentials. When a film comes along that uses these characters it has to tread carefully so as not to stamp all over characters we know so well. When they made Van Helsing, they did not tread carefully. In fact, they wore size twelve Docs to make sure that when they stomped down on those favourite characters, they really kicked the shit out of them!

Van Helsing follows the adventures of Gabriel Van Helsing, a fixer for the church who hunts down monsters and ghouls on their behalf. He and his faithful comic-relief sidekick are despatched to Transylvania to stop Dracula from killing off the last in a line of a noble family and thereby prevent any of them from entering Heaven. Van Helsing makes his way to Transylvania just in time to save the last of that family, Anna Velarius from vampire attack. Anna and Van Helsing head off to tackle Dracula and learn of his dastardly plan to procreate using the same technology that Dr. Frankenstein used to bring his monster to life – a project that was financed by Dracula. Turns out that the secret to getting the process to work for vampire children is to pass electricity through a werewolf, which is handy as Anna’s brother has just become one. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing Van Helsing predictably saves the day after learning that he’s the left hand of God though Anna does get bumped off at the end.

Fang-tastic! (or “Hello Boys!”)

It’s a little unfair to be overly critical of Van Helsing as it’s not a horror film in the truest sense, it’s really a kids movie that uses characters from horror stories. But as a kids film the film-makers didn’t really play to their audience very well as the film is overly long at over two hours and far too confusing. There is a lot going on in the film as nearly every horror character gets a look in as well as the top brass at the Vatican and in an attempt to give everyone enough screen time the film jumps around like white rappers in a St. Paddy’s day piss up. Van Helsing could have been a lot better if it was half an hour shorter and cut maybe two or three un-necessary monsters.

To be fair, there are a couple of things in Van Helsing that’re alright. And they both belonged to the red haired bride of Dracula!

Two Thumbs Down for Van Helsing.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty Two

Originally Published Monday 27th October 2008

The Omen

In many ways The Omen took all of the best ideas of horror and crammed them into the one film. This approach could have ended in disaster but rather than a mishmash of ideas slapped together the makers of The Omen managed to put together a great, cohesive movie.

In early June 1976 the wife of a high ranking American diplomat (Robert Thorn, played by Gregory Peck) in Rome gives birth to a stillborn baby. One of the Priests running the hospital suggests to Robert that they can take the child of a mother who died at the same time as their own baby passed. Deciding to save his missus the pain of losing their baby, Bob takes the child and says nothing to his wife. They go on to raise the baby as their own and name him Damien.

Robert gets a promotion and is made the US ambassador to Great Britain, so he moves the family to London. At Damien’s fifth birthday party his nanny tops herself by dramatically pegging herself off a window ledge with a rope around her neck. This is the first in line of horrific incidents that surround the Thorn’s. Damien gets a creepy new nanny who tries to run things her way and brings large dogs into the house against Robert’s will.

Robert is approached by a Priest who seems to know about Damien’s past. He confronts Robert and tries to warn him, saying that the child is evil and must die. Robert wants none of this so he ignores the warning. Until the Priest dies. Robert gets shaken up by this especially when a photographer he kinda knows shows him a series of pictures he’s taken that seem to foretell how people are dying. Disaster strikes a little closer to home when Robert’s wife suffers a severe fall caused by Damien and Robert remembers that the Priest warned him that something like this would happen. Now believing that Damien is evil he decides to find out more about his natural parents.

Travelling to Italy with the photographer (who has a picture of himself that outlines how he will die) he finds out that the hospital where Damien was born has burned to the ground, that all the records were destroyed and that the only Priest who may be able to help him is living in a remote monastery suffering from injuries from the fire sustained as an apparent penance for his involvement with Damien. Thorn discovers that his own child wasn’t a stillborn but was in fact murdered and that Damien’s mother may have been a jackal. While in Italy, news reaches Thorn that his wife has been killed.

Thorn seeks help from a dude with a cool name, Bugenhagen, who provides Thorn with some knives and the method to kill Damien. Rejecting this idea, Thorn discards the knives, just in time for his journo friend to die just as was predicted in the pictures. Finally accepting his fate Thorn returns home to kill Damien.

You wouldn’t recognise a young Keanu Reeves, would you?

The Omen is a pretty flawless movie. Good actors, a great story, and the films positioning as more of a supernatural thriller than a horror make for a package that’s hard to find a problem with. But I tried and came up with the following nitpicky bits.

Like all the other horror movies that have a big religious element, The Omen deals with Catholicism and only picks out the interesting bits like Revelations. While that particular book reads like a horror story it’s the bit of the Bible that most teenage boys have read either to help them become better smartarses or to give themselves a bit of a fright, and a really original movie would do well to focus on another book of the Bible altogether (as long as they don’t ask Dan Brown for help). Also, The Omen is entirely dependent on the character of the Priest who knows everything without really explaining how and tells Thorn all he needs to know. Without the Priest to conveniently fill in the details and tell Thorn what to do, Thorn would have to figure things out for himself.

Still, these are nitpicky faults. The Omen is brilliant.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Omen.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty One

Originally Published Sunday 26th October 2008

The Exorcist

For some reason Catholicism lends itself to horror very well. The religion has a lot of references to the devil and demons and angels and all sorts of supernatural goings on. The last book of the Bible, Revelations, is practically a handbook on how to write horror. There are loads of horror films that use religion as a core theme but the granddaddy of them all is The Exorcist.

In the early 1970’s the film introduces four different people on different paths in life. Father Merrin is an older Priest on an archaeological dig in northern Iraq, he is not in the best of health and seems to be surrounded by a dark presence. Father Karras is a younger Priest working in Washington DC as a psychiatrist, helping Priests with their problems, despite developing a crisis of faith himself due to his mother’s poor health and eventual death.

Also living in Washington are Chris MacNeil and her daughter Regan. Chris is an actress in town to make a film that she doesn’t seem to think much of. She’s separated from her husband who’s off living the good life in Europe so her daughter lives with her. Life is pretty good in the MacNeil household but things turn a little sour as Regan become ill, suffering from severe nightmares, convulsions, and altered behaviour. Chris gets medical help for Regan but nothing seems to work. Despite a raft of often painful medical tests none of the doctors are able to help and suggest psychiatric treatment. This seems to be a blind alley as well and Regan gets worse, her behaviour and physical appearance deteriorate to the point where Chris will do anything to help her, even extreme treatments. The doctors suggest playing to Regan’s delusions by having an exorcism performed.

Chris seeks out Fr. Karras, suggested to her through a mutual Priest friend. He is sceptical but investigates Regan’s case an after witnessing some phenomena first hand. Deciding that an exorcism is warranted he is assigned Fr. Merrin, back from Iraq, to help due to his past experiences with exorcisms. The two Priests perform the exorcism and are confronted with their own weaknesses and guilt as they battle the demons possessing Regan.

Look what she did…

The Exorcist is one of the accepted benchmarks for making good horror. The use of religious themes is the cornerstone of the film and if I were to suggest an overarching theme it’s probably the clash of religion and science. For all their expertise and technology the medical guys are powerless to help. Karras is a Priest and a Psychiatrist, but his advanced medical training at some of the country’s best medical schools still left him without the means to help his dying mother. It’s only when the church take the case seriously is anything done to aid Regan and only the Priests involved are prepared to do what’s necessary, despite the high personal cost to themselves.

The Exorcist is by no means perfect. The first half of the film is used to set the scene and build tension which in retrospect it does, but as you’re watching it feels slow. The cop investigating the death of the director working with Chris seems like a buffoon of a character and has a little too much screen time for someone who doesn’t push the story along. Merrin’s character is underdeveloped compared to the others and it’s really Karras we relate to. It would have been nice to know more about Merrin, especially as he seemed to have a greater understanding of the whole situation.

The Exorcist is a good scarefest of a film and one of the most quotable flicks around. 35 years since it’s release it remains controversial, the scenes with the crucifix are extreme and the filth that comes out of Regan’s mouth makes this a film you wouldn’t watch with your mum.

Two Thumbs Up for The Exorcist.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Twenty

Originally Published Saturday 25th October 2008

The Wicker Man

The original Wicker Man from 1973 is a work of art. It really is that simple.

Edward Woodward plays Sgt Howie, a Scottish policeman who travels to the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl after he receives an anonymous letter requesting help. Howie is a devout Christian and he is shocked by the antics of the islanders who practice a pagan-like nature based religion, including lots of nakedity and public fornication!

The islanders are secretive in the extreme and hamper Howie’s investigation by claiming no knowledge of the girl. They change their collective story when he uncovers evidence of her existence and try to convince him that the missing girl is in fact dead. This proves to be bunkum when Howie has her grave dug up and the coffin contains nothing but the corpse of a hare. Howie does some more policework and comes to the conclusion that she is still alive but is to be used as a human sacrifice to the gods of the fields in order to guarantee a good crop for next harvest. Howie tries to leave the island to get help but his plane won’t start, so he tackles the islanders himself and goes door to door looking for the girl.

After his search proves fruitless (like the islands orchards!) he goes back to his guest house to rest. He is advised by the innkeeper that this is the best thing to do as a man of his beliefs would only be shocked by the festivities planned for that afternoon as it’s May Day, one of their religions most sacred days. Howie pretends to be asleep but is only biding his time. When the right moment comes along he over powers the innkeeper and steals his May Day costume. Dressed as Punch he joins the May Day procession and discovers the missing girl tied up, ready to be sacrificed. He tries to rescue her but finds that he’s been tricked by everyone, including the girl who was playing the victim, and that he is the one who’s going to be sacrificed!

Count Dooku? Hippies? No wonder he turned to the Dark Side!

The Wicker Man is pure art, a tale of terror that is dressed up in all the pretty colours of the last days of flower power and the hippie movement that makes the viewer wonder for a short while if there’s something to what they’re saying. It’s like the first time you see Fight Club and you think that maybe modern life is rubbish and should be torn down. However, like in Fight Club, as you watch The Wicker Man you are dragged along to the point where you realise that the islanders are in fact mad and you feel a pang of guilt for being suckered in.

Woodward gives such a performance as Howie that you really associate with him and his frustration at the islands inhabitants. When the horrific ending comes you are saddened as well as shocked by what happens. The final scene where Howie is praying for himself as he accepts his fate is properly upsetting.

For the most part Wicker Man is a musical. There are several set musical pieces through the first two thirds of the film but their folksy make up actually add to the film as opposed to taking from it. The bit where Howie is tempted by the landlord’s daughter is particularly intriguing.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Wicker Man!

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Nineteen

Originally Published Friday 24th October 2008

The Shining

Watching The Shining has become a bittersweet experience for me in recent years. It was one of those films I remember being really scared of when I was younger, classic scenes of the creepy twins in the hallways, or the blood flowing from the elevators, or the naked chick with the rotting flesh in the bathroom, all had the power to really put the shits up me! As you may have guessed, this is no longer the case. Now, when I watch the film I get wrapped up in how Stanley Kubrick made movies and how much yer man from NCIS really does look and sound like a young Jack Nicholson, and unfortunately, how piss-poor a writer Stephen King is.

The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Nicholson) as he takes up the job of caretaker for an isolated hotel over the winter months. Each year the hotel gets snowbound so a caretaker is needed to keep an eye on the place and make sure that the rigours of the winter don’t cause excessive damage to the buildings. Jack moves in to the hotel with his wife and young son. On the first day, the day the hotel closes for the winter, the Torrance’s are given a tour. During the tour, which is given by the cook, we are told that the young Torrance has telepathic abilities and that there may be more to his imaginary friend Tony then a simple child’s game. The cook has similar powers that in his family are referred to as shining. Also, the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground. And the previous year the caretaker killed his family.

Over the course of the winter odd things start happening. Jack, who should be working on writing a book, is instead seeing ghosts and nipping off for a swift half in the haunted ballroom. The young lad flips his lid and slides into a neat psychosis complete with mirror-writing capabilities (redrum = murder backwards). After an encounter with the previous caretaker Jack decides to whack the family and goes about the task with an axe, rightly giving his missus the screaming heebie jeebies.

After some madness with an axe, Jack’s mind wasn’t the only thing that had splintered!

The Shining has some amazing scenes that are proper scary and Jack’s decent into madness is a case study in how someone comes apart and goes psycho, but for all that’s right there’s a fair bit wrong too. The story has so many elements that it’s hard to pick them apart into a cohesive set of causes and effects. Firstly, the young Torrance has telepathic abilities. Fair enough. But who’s Tony? Where did he come from and why? Also, the cook had this ability in his family. Was Jack therefore predisposed to seeing things?

Next up, the Indian burial ground. Why build the hotel there? It was off in the middle of fucking nowhere, why not build half a mile up the road? No one would have known the difference. And was that the reason why there were odd goings on in the hotel, and if so why did the phenomenon get fixed on the 1920’s? And how did the time travel element come into it, that is, how did Jack get into the 1920’s picture? I’m sure there are explanations, but I watched the film last night and I didn’t see them. That maybe because I wasn’t paying attention for them as I got so hung up on looking for Kubrick traits.

Stanley Kubrick had a giant reputation considering the shite films he made. Shining starts off with the synthesized music that was over used in Clockwork Orange and from that point on the film feels more like another film in the Kubrick series than a standalone film in its own right. That said, it is a classic of the genre, and the “here’s Johnny” bit is amazing.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Shining.

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) – Day Eighteen

Originally Published Thursday 23rd October 2008

The Amityville Horror

Many times when you hear that the truth is stranger than fiction it turns out to be anything but. Film-makers, like any other creative people, like to embellish the truth for the purposes of drama, or tension, or just to be cool. Over the past eighteen nights I there have been a couple of films that have been based on true stories. The Mothman Prophecies and The Serpent & the Rainbow both developed on their original stories in order to make more entertaining films, both leaving their inspirations in the shade in terms of dramatic effect. In the case of “The Amityville Horror” the reverse is the case – the truth really is stranger than fiction. And better too!

The Amityville Horror (the original 1979 version) is based on a book about the events that occurred in a house in Amityville. One night, one of the original residents of the house goes on a killing spree and murders his sleeping brothers and sisters along with their parents. A year later and the house is up for sale at a knockdown price because of the murders. The Lutz family buy the house and move in. Over the course of 28 days they are subjected to all manner of horrors that finally drive them out.

Clark Kent’s beardy disguise went a little too far…

As horror films go the story is a bog standard tale of a haunted house that drives out the family living there, Amityville and Poltergeist are roughly the same basic story. What makes Amityville remarkable is that it is based on the very real events that took place in New York state. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in 1974 and the real life Lutz family moved into the house a little over a year later, and after 28 days, fled the gaff saying that paranormal events drove them out.

Now, there is a lot of debate over the validity of the Lutzes claims and at this point it’s generally accepted that the events they say happened didn’t really and that the whole thing was really a cover for the fact that poor old George Lutz was broke and couldn’t afford the place, despite the bargain basement price tag. The media storm around the case in the 1970’s continued on into the early years of this century as Lutz trademarked the phrase “The Amityville Horror” as part of his ongoing attempts to cash in. He even went to court at one point, suing people for slander when they said he was full of shit. He lost out there too as the judge in the case ruled that he was actually full of shit.

As a movie Amityville is a little too bog standard. Poltergeist came along only three years later but showed how haunted house movies should be made, i.e. not on the cheap. For all the hype the 1979 flick seems cheap. The way the movie moves along and the devices used are brutal – the scene near the end with the pig with the glowing eyes is unforgivable! The way they try to drag religion into the story also stinks and was just an attempt to build on the success of other movies from the time that had big religious elements.

In watching Amityville though the hardest thing for me was trying not to laugh every time Margot Kidder was on screen – you may remember her as Lois Lane from the old Superman films. She flipped her lid in real life in the mid-nineties and I can’t help but wonder if it was brought on by her watching this film and realising what had happened to her career!

Two thumbs down for The Amityville Horror.