30 Days of Fright – 30: The Exorcist 3

I am often asked about what horror films I’ve seen that are good and scary. There are a few that have been spooky enough to give me chills and there’s the one or two films I always recommend when someone wants to sit in and get frightened by a film, but in reality, as an adult who is now seriously desensitised to most of the material in a common-or-garden horror film, it is rare for me to see a film that I’d call honestly scary. This was not always the case. When younger I was frightened by all sorts of films from actual horror like Poltergeist to (allegedly) comedies like Ghostbusters; there are loads of films that have scenes that put the shits up me rightly. But there has always been one film lurking in the shadows that, when I first saw it aged about 14 or so, terrified me.

Continuing the story fifteen years after the events in The Exorcist and wisely ignoring that The Exorcist 2 ever happened, The Exorcist 3 (1990) returns to Georgetown in Washington DC where a string of unusual murders take place, each with a religious aspect. The first victim is a young boy who’s been drugged, crucified, decapitated, and had his head replaced with one from a statue. The lead investigator on the case is Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott, who we saw recently in another horror film), the same copper who investigated the death of the film director in the first film and who had befriended Fr. Karras before his untimely end.

The anniversary of the death of Fr. Karras is always a sad time for Kinderman as well as for a friend of his, Fr. Dyer, who also knew Karras well. The two lads always go to the cinema to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the anniversary in order to cheer each other up. Whatever cheer Kinderman has is quickly gone though as another religious murder occurs, this time a priest in a confessional, and things go from bad to worse when the crime lab reports that there are a different set of fingerprints at the second crime scene from those found at the first, indicating more than one killer.

Kinderman notices details from each murder that are the same as the MO of a serial killer known as the Gemini who died fifteen years previously. Details of the Gemini’s killings had never been fully revealed to the press in order to make it easier to tell nutters who claimed to be the murderer apart from the real thing, so the chances of a copycat being at work are slim.

Fr. Dyer is admitted to hospital for “tests” and quickly becomes victim number three with another of the Gemini’s calling cards left at the scene. Kinderman talks to the head of the psychiatric ward who informs him of one of the long-term patients who is kept in secure isolation. Admitted to the hospital fifteen years before suffering from severe amnesia he slipped into a catatonic state and stayed that way until he recently became violent and started making outrageous claims. Kinderman pays a visit to the looney in cell 11 and is shocked by how, every now and then, in a certain light, the man who’s now claiming to be the Gemini killer looks just like the long-dead Fr. Karras…

Oooh, I’m real evil and there’s nowt you can do about it!!!
Lemme tell ya what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna cut yo willy off!
You haven’t got a scissors big enough, LOL!

If there’s something you treasure from when you were younger like a film or TV show then please, please, do not watch it again as an adult because very few things will live up to our memories of them. When sitting down to watch Exorcist 3 for the first time since 1991 I felt more than a little trepidation as it had so effectively frightened me when I was a kid. I was looking forward to the parts that had worked their magic so well all those years ago. And I was crushed by my disappointment, because Exorcist 3 is rubbish!!!!!

Allow me to explain. When I was 14, I and a group of other young lads were staying over at a friends house and, as is the custom, a series of action and horror films were watched while pizza was consumed. The last film of about four or five that night was The Exorcist 3 and I was the only one left awake to watch it, alone in the dark if you will. Exorcist 3 is infamous in horror circles for one scene, the scene in the hospital where… actually, never mind, here’s the video:

This bit comes out of nowhere and scared the fucking bejeezus out of me (aged 14, in the dark, alone, 3 or 4 in the morning, just to put that in context). There was no crying or wailing, no shouting or pleading for help, no running into another room, in fact I didn’t even stop the movie. I didn’t fucking sleep either! The scene where the figure in white chases after the nurse in Exorcist 3 was, until last night, the most frightening scene in a film I had ever seen. But, probably because of the terrror, I had remembered it slightly differently, so in my mind it was a headless statue that chased the nurse, which is much more scary then a gobshite in a sheet chasing after a nurse. So now, the power of Exorcist 3 is destroyed and so is my love of the film, which it didn’t really deserve in the end.

The first two sequels to The Exorcist have a bit of a twisted history to them with the list of people wanting to be associated with them far shorter then the list of people who ran a mile when asked if they were interested. Exorcist 2 is an utter disaster, cobbled together from bits of footage left over from the first film it makes no sense and had to be ignored by everyone after it came out. Exorcist 3 had a better chance, in that the original director was brought back as was the author of the original book, William Peter Blatty. However, things fell apart pretty quickly when the director did a runner leaving Blatty to do everything. Once he’d filmed his “masterpiece” the studio got their hooks into it and tacked on a new ending so as to justify calling it an Exorcist movie (Blatty had rather annoyingly left out an actual exorcism in his version).

So, once again the resulting film was a bit of a mess filled with unusual dream sequences that don’t explain anything but only confuse instead. The director Robert Roderiegez once said that if you need to pad out a film that’s too short then just add in a few dream sequences and that certainly seems to have happened here. As well as dream sequences, there’s a fair bit of retconning going on in Exorcist 3 and the backstory has been changed to accommodate things like how Kinderman and Karras were supposedly really close which is not something you saw in the original Exorcist.

Exorcist 3 is definitely better then the second film but it still treats people who have seen the first one very badly. I’m glad I knew the version of this film that played in my head for twenty years as it was an incredibly frightening film, it’s such a shame that the real thing is so poor.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Exorcist 3.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcist_III
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099528/

30 Days of Fright – 29: The Devil Inside

Ever since the heyday of creepy films with priests in them in the early seventies, Hollywood and everyone else in the film business, have been trying to recapture the menace and genuine fear that a good dose of religion can bring to a story. This is no easy task as the world has changed a lot since then and for many organised religion is not the big part of their lives it once was. Films are different too, not as gritty or harsh and, mostly, not as good.

The Devil Inside (2012) starts off in 1989 with a mix of TV reports and videotaped police crime scene footage showing the details of the murder of three people at the hands of Maria Rossi as an exorcism was being performed on her. Through more TV reports we are shown that Maria was found to be mad and ended up committed to an asylum.

Now, after learning about her mother and the murders from her father before his death,  Maria’s daughter Isabella is making a documentary about her dear old mum and the practice of exorcisms. Maria has been transferred from the US to a psychiatric hospital in Rome, near the Vatican. Travelling to Rome, Isabella hopes to find out more about exorcism from the high-ups in the Church as well as reuniting with her mammy.

In Rome, Isabella visits a school for exorcists where clergy and civilians can go to learn the theory of casting out demons. Through the school she meets a couple of young priests who are well into the whole thing as well as some laypeople who are a little more sceptical.The priests bring Isabella along to see an exorcism first hand in an effort to convince her that exorcisms are real and necessary. From there she goes to the hospital where she spends some quality time with her raving lunatic of a mother. Maria is not a shining example of the effectiveness of the Italian mental health system as she sits in her room all day and divides her time between drawing unusual pictures and cutting inverted crosses into her flesh. Her only other hobbies are shouting anti-religious obscenities at hospital staff and violent outbursts.

Isabella’s meeting with Maria goes as well as you’d expect, with Maria, in her mental way, giving out to Isabella for having an abortion when she’s not busy talking in unusual accents or screaming her head off. Isabella is initially upset by the visit but later realises that there was no way her mum could have known about the abortion as she’d had it some years previously and told no-one. She goes to see the two priests from the exorcist school and shows them the video of her visiting her ma. They quickly decide to pay a call on Maria in the hospital as they believe that she is still possessed by whatever entity the exorcism in ’89 was trying to drive out. The lads are well intentioned but out of their depth and while trying to cast out whatever is troubling Maria they unleash something terrifying…

Maria’s un-necessarily tight trousers give her terrible backdraft problems after a rotten kabab
Even a person as well known for their hatred of found footage/first person shooter style films like me can see why they lend themselves to stories about exorcism. If I were ever in a situation where an exorcism was likely to be taking place near me, I would grab a video camera before things got rolling just in case Satan himself should pop out of the victims mouth and run around the place. That’s the kind of thing that would get you a few hits on You Tube!

Understanding the appeal of such films however does in no way what so ever justify this shitty, lazy approach to movie making and it makes it hard to appreciate the story for what it is when so much hangs on the visual style. Hard, but not impossible, for after watching The Devil Inside, I feel that I can appreciate it for exactly what it is: a large piece of shit left inside your favourite pair of boots that you didn’t notice until it was too late.

The Devil Inside might have been a half-decent short film. If it was only ten minutes long and told the story it did it could have been an enjoyable little thing and people would love it. As a full-length feature film it’s about eighty minutes too long. Once the opening scenes have been and gone, where you see the original murders and you hear the details of the exorcism being performed on Maria Rossi, then there is no need to see the rest of the film as you know what’s going to happen, the only twist is how (and why) to move the action to Italy (though no good reason is ever given for the Roman holiday).

Isabella’s quest to understand her mother is an admirable one but you know, you just fucking know, that the woman is possessed by demons and that any hint of mental illness is a red herring. In one scene there’s a discussion of the mechanics of exorcisms and the concept of demons leaping from one person to another is mentioned so you know, you just fucking know, that the demon will jump from Maria to pretty much everyone else. Armed with these details you actually know more then the makers of the film did, because anyone with any imagination could figure out how the film was going to end, anyone that is, except the people who actually made The Devil Inside.

It’s not unfair to say that The Devil Inside has one of, if not the, worst ending to a film I have ever seen. I won’t spoil the ending by giving away what happened because I haven’t a clue what happened, the film just ends and you are prompted to visit a website to discover more details. I’m not kidding, you’re honestly told to go to a fucking website! I actually did and was surprised to find a website as shit as the film it’s related to, which is saying something!

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Devil Inside.

Possession is nine Links of the law:
Official Site: http://www.devilinsidemovie.com/
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1560985/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_Inside_%28film%29

30 Days of Fright – 28: The Last Exorcism

There are supposedly several professions that, due to the nature of the work involved or the typical lifestyles of the people who do those jobs, are forced to pay more for insurance than other professions. So, fighter pilots tend to pay more than horologists (for those of you who are right now asking themselves “what’s a horologist?” it’s a watchmaker, get a fucking education!) as they are perhaps more likely to speed when driving; lawyers pay more than carpenters as they tend to be pissheads; and dentists pay more then everyone else as dentists tend to be more suicidal. What I find surprising about the whole insurance thing when it comes to jobs is that cameramen can get insured at all, considering how many of them get into trouble when making shows for the History Channel or Discovery Science.

Presented as a documentary, The Last Exorcism (2010) follows Reverend Cotton Marcus as he works with a film crew to expose one of the nasty swindles being perpetrated by various churches in the deep south of the United States. Marcus himself is a preacher and exorcist but has always known that the exorcism business was a con. His conscience got the better of him one day after he read an article about a child suffering from autism who had died while undergoing an exorcism and so he decided to expose the fraud of that practice through the medium of film.

As a well known exorcist (with a website) Marcus often gets requests for assistance from those who believe a family member has been possessed. He takes a random request and decides to follow up on it, with the film crew in tow.

Travelling to a very rural part of Louisiana, Rev. Marcus meets widowed farmer Louis Sweetzer whose daughter Nell has allegedly been bothering some of the animals at night (by “bothering” what I mean is she’s been going out and slaughtering them in the most horrific manner possible and leaving their guts spread about the place) while supposedly possessed by some demon. Nell is a strange child and incredibly naive for a girl of sixteen, almost certainly as a result of her father’s insistence that she be home-schooled and not venture too far from the farm since the death of her mother.

Using his arsenal of gadgets and tricks Marcus goes through the motions of the exorcism, claiming that Nell had been possessed by a nasty demon that was having it’s wicked way with her. With the exorcism over and Sweetzer happy, Marcus takes his fee and heads to a motel for the evening. That night he is shocked to find Nell in his motel room in some distress. He and the camera crew take her to the hospital but nothing is found to be wrong with her.

Marcus pays a visit to the church where the Sweetzers used to go and meets with Pastor Manley in an effort to find out more about the family and what might really be going on with them, though as the Sweetzers haven’t been in contact with the church for some years, Manley can tell him very little.

Once Nell gets home she attacks her brother with a knife forcing her Dad to take him to the hospital. Marcus and the crew stay with her at the farm in order to have a bit of a poke around, just as a very disturbed Nell turns extremely violent towards them…

Rev. Marcus gets his new bed delivered and finds that it came with a free girl – hallelujah!

The Last Exorcism is a found footage film, though this time the footage wasn’t from some teenagers camcorder but an actual documentary was supposedly being produced. The film that you watch is the footage edited together into the beginnings of that documentary. The thing is, the early part of the film has a proper documentary feel to it with people’s names flashed up on screen as they first appear, but as the film goes along, the documentary feeling is lost and what you’re left with is more like found footage, in that it’s as if it came straight out of the camera.

I give the film makers credit for going down the documentary route in the way they did, as Rev. Marcus motivations for getting involved are believable and the visual style of the first half of The Last Exorcism is very much like something you’d see on the Discovery Channel, but the second act, where all the juicy stuff is, goes off the rails a little in order to justify that juicy stuff getting onto the screen.

The premise of the story is an enticing hook, getting into how a disillusioned clergyman wants to expose the fraud he has been a part of for so many years. Once Rev. Marcus explains his position on exorcisms and how they’re all nonsense used to defraud the gullible, from the start you know without a shadow of a doubt that, in this movie anyway, exorcisms are absolutely necessary and something terrible is going to happen.

Rev. Marcus’s journey through the film is better then most of the characters in a film like this. He’s initially presented as a hero, someone exposing the way some religious types take advantage of their congregations – keep an eye out for the scene where he preaches the recipe for banana bread and gets an “Amen” on cue anyway. How he is perceived changes though when he performs the “exorcism” and reveals all the tricks of the trade. This puts him in a different light and he’s shown for the con-man he really is. The father who asked for Marcus’s help, Louis Sweetzer, becomes the sympathetic character as he’s a true believer who’s being taken advantage of. What makes matters much worse is that there is obviously something wrong with Nell Sweetzer and Marcus’ cavalier attitude to what he’s doing at this point is endangering her. As the final act approaches Marcus moves back into the hero role as he finally shows genuine concern for Nell and, through his acts and deeds, behaves like the man of God he’s always claimed to be.

For a change, some thought seems to have genuinely gone into how to motivate the main character to do what he does. In so many films you find yourself wondering why the hell the protagonist is getting up to the things they do while in The Last Exorcism it’s Rev. Marcus’ concern for the girl Nell that prompts him to stick around long after most people (social services included) would have said “fuck it” and gone home. 

As a character study of Rev. Marcus, The Last Exorcism works well, but the other main character, Nell is a different matter. As the shut-in sixteen year old girl with some serious baggage, the way she is portrayed is hard to watch and while the questions of mental illness that surround her make her a character you want to feel sorry for, for some reason you just don’t. I’m not sure if the performance from Ashley Bell or if the direction or writing is at fault, but I didn’t care for or about her.

The deep south setting for The Last Exorcism is excellent, with the mix of rural isolation, heat, and strong religion all adding to the atmosphere. The ending is brilliant but if anything it maybe too subtle and it plays out a little too quickly so if you blink you could miss it, making it worth while to take a second look at the last ten minutes or so.

The Last Exorcism is a decent film but is hampered by the found footage style chosen for it and as a regular movie it could have been great. As it is, The Last Exorcism is good, just not good enough.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Last Exorcism.

The Links Exorcism:
Official Site: http://www.thelastexorcism.com/index.html
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1320244/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Exorcism

30 Days of Fright – 27: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Throughout history mental illness has been misdiagnosed as demonic possession which has led to severe and tragic consequences for so many of the victims.Over the centuries, as medical science advanced and a greater knowledge and understanding of psychiatric and psychological issues became commonplace, the need for exorcisms decreased and now the only encounter most people have with the practice is through films and TV. Which is terrible really, I mean, while everyone’s been out chasing after the nutters and fruitcakes and worrying about their “feelings” and “civil rights” no one has spared a thought for the poor old exorcists now out of a job. It’s not as if they could transfer their skills to another industry either…

One Big Mac meal with a strawberry milkshake and an apple pie – I’ve purged the pie of demons but it’s still as hot as Hell so please be careful. Enjoy your meal!

Claiming to be based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) quietly opens with a medical examiner paying a visit to a simple family (bumpkins) out in the country. One of the daughters has died and the  medical examiner states that he doesn’t believe it was natural causes. A priest, Fr. Richard Moore is present in the house as is a cop who arrests the priest for negligent homicide.

Fr. Moore’s case is assigned a prosecutor, a religious man called Ethan Thomas who will prosecute with impartiality, and the diocese hires a bad-ass criminal defence lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who claims no religious beliefs at all. As the trial begins it is revealed that Fr. Moore was performing an exorcism on the girl who died, the Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) of the film’s title.

From then on the story of what happened to Emily is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the progression of the trial. With the trial under way we see how Emily left the simple life behind her and went of to university to study to become a teacher. While away at college, Emily had begun to experience a series of terrifying episodes that appear to be the result of demonic possession. Witnesses are called by both sides that offer testimony that sometimes corroborate the possession story or counter with medical evidence that Emily was actually suffering from a severe form of epilepsy or psychosis.

Fr. Moore is convinced that Emily was possessed and that the exorcism was the right course of action despite the tragic outcome and all he wants is to be able to tell Emily’s story from the stand in the courtroom. However, the trial does not go well and Fr. Moore seems destined to loose, just as he warns his lawyer that there are dark forces at work around the trial and that everyone involved is in grave danger…

Unable to find a blanket to hide under, Emily tries the “Na, na, na, I can’t hear you” approach to combating demons

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a fascinating blend of courtroom drama and horror that manages to hook the viewer in the way that a really good episode of Law and Order used to be able to. The courtroom drama is something so commonplace on TV that everyone is familiar with it so Emily Rose is grounded in comfortable territory from the start. The court setting also provides a nice “good versus evil” plot that cleverly reflects the allegedly demonic battle between the same forces ranging in and around young Miss Rose.

The details of the possession rip you out of the comfortable court and manage to unsettle the viewer well with the supernatural scenes offering some nice little frights, like the demons Emily sees everywhere, or the bit where she’s contorted on the floor in an inhuman pose.The scene where she is bouncing up and down from kneeling to standing and back again over and over is frankly fucking creepy.

Overall, the possession scenes are well handled with the effects subtle and unnerving.There are some clues in the film, like how it’s raining in certain scenes like the many of the flashbacks that lead me to believe that there’s more to The Exorcism of Emily Rose than is immediately apparent on a casual viewing, though I think I’ll leave a more in-depth analysis to someone with more time for such things like a film student or other shiftless layabout.

The big set piece of Emily Rose is the exorcism itself, which surprisingly takes place about three quarters of the way through the film. The scene unfolds well and had the potential to be frightening enough but lacks the punch needed to really make the audience feel scared; it’s almost as if the director held back when he really needed to press on. Unfortunately, when the script for the exorcism scene was being written the writer didn’t hold back and had poor old Emily possessed with not one demon or spirit but with loads of the buggers which claim they were each responsible for the actions of various evil people throughout history, a concept I quite liked. The problem was in claiming that one of the demons was actually Lucifer himself, which was a bit much.

The other thing that was a bit much for The Exorcism of Emily Rose was Tom Wilkinson as the priest Fr. Moore. Wilkinson is known for his performances in Batman Begins, The Kennedys, and most notably in Michael Clayton, and he’s the kind of actor who just can’t help himself when he makes a film but always does his very best with the material. He’s just a little too good in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and he just dominates every scene he is in, showing up everyone else in the process.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

I have exorcised the Links:
Details of the True Story: http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/emilyrose.php
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0404032/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcism_of_Emily_Rose

30 Days of Fright – Prologue

Sometimes life moves at an incredibly slow pace, the hours creeping by at a painful rate. At other times life moves at breakneck speed and you barely have time to notice that the last time a year went by slowly you were probably still in school. Once again, from where I’m standing anyway, another year has shot past and we find ourselves staring down the barrel of another set of the most amazing horror film reviews the world has ever seen – it’s year 5 of the 30 Days of Fright!

For the last four years I’ve taken the opportunity that the month of October brings as it slides towards Hallowe’en to watch a load of horror films and then write reviews, with some pointing out the better elements of those films, though most just making snide put-downs of other people’s work. In the best tradition of film critics and hipsters everywhere I let my own conceited notion that I know best about these things run riot and take apart some much loved gems of the genre while elevating unheard of indie movies much higher then they could ever deserve, working on the simple notion that if a film’s popular then it’s probably shite.

The previous bunch of reviews are available for your consideration here: 2008, here: 2009, here: 2010, and here: 2011,and hopefully like the last few outings you’ll find year five to be entertaining, a bit of a laugh, and maybe, just maybe a little bit interesting.

As the actual reviews do take a bit of effort, and because I’m a naturally lazy person, the scoring system hasn’t changed a bit over the years and each film still gets rated on its merits (but mostly lack thereof) and assigned a final score on my rather unusual thumb-based scale:

Two Thumbs Firmly Down = One of the worst films ever, never mention this film to anyone nevermind actually watching it!

Two Thumbs Down = Utter Scutter

One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down = Meh, don’t go out of your way for it but there’s no need to avoid it either

Two Thumbs Up = A brilliant movie, well worth a look

Two Thumbs Firmly Up = A must see, a truly excellent motion picture you should make it your business to see as soon as you can

There is another score that is only used in the most extreme of cases: No Thumbs = no rating as the film is beneath contempt due to the handling of its subject matter – when you consider that these are horror films then that’s a pretty extreme rating to get and has so far, only been applied to one nasty little film.

As is tradition, the first film gets its showing tonight, so here we go again… let the 30 Days of Fright begin!