Tag Archives: Ghosts

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Rating: B/  I knew next to nothing about Kubo and the Two Strings going in, and I probably wouldn’t have even watched it at all had my dad not bought a copy for my sister on her 13th birthday. I had seen a few ads and knew it had a monkey in it, but overall my interest was minimal. While Kubo and the Two Strings’ plot structure is not the most original (it features a pretty standard heroes’ journey arc where Kubo picks up a couple of unlikely companions and moves from place to place trying to find items with magical properties that will help him fight an ancient evil,) it is visually astonishing and peppered with some entertaining characters and funny dialogue. Continue reading Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

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Rating: B/  Behold the Many is kind of a strange book, and one that is hard to summarize and describe, but I’ll try my best to put my feelings about this novel into words. I had never heard of it when I picked it up but I was immediately sucked in by the beautiful cover art, featuring an a black-and-white picture of an innocent-looking Asian girl overlaid with colorful flowers. The image, much like many examples of cover art on the front of novels, has very little to do with the actual story, seeming in this case to have been randomly picked out with little correlation with the plot itself. Continue reading Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

The Ward (2010)

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I’ll admit, I kind of went out on a limb with this one. I had seen the theatrical trailer quite some time ago, and it didn’t look like my type of movie, which is a polite way of me saying it looked like crap-ola. But I had just seen John Carpenter’s Halloween for the umpteenth time, and I saw this on Netflix Streaming and decided to give it a whirl. How bad could it be, right?

Pretty bad, as it turns out. This ain’t no Halloween, and to top off a heaping shit cake is the king of all crappy twists. Did anyone actually think this was a good idea? The plot follows Kristen (Amber Heard,) a cute blonde who burns down a farmhouse and is taken to a sinister mental institution. She says she’s perfectly rational and sane; for some odd reason the shrinks overlooking her case disagree.

Kristen goes under lock and key in North Bend Psychiatric Institution, where she meets her fellow patients,  flirty, manipulative Sarah (Danielle Panabaker,) brainy Iris (Lyndsy  Fonseca,) who is rarely seen without her handy-dandy sketchbook, contrarian Emily (Mamie Gummer,) who picks fights with just about everyone and paints her mouth clown-red in protest at group meetings, and timid, infantile Zoe (Laura-Leigh,) who talks in a wittle bitty baby voice and clutches her stuffed bunny in protection against a world she can’t quite comprehend.

Little do these disparate band of loonies know that shit’s about to go down in a big way, when the ghost of a dead patient lurks around the halls of the spooky institution. Meanwhile, creepy nurses scuttle around menacingly, and Kristen tries to convince her shrink (Jared Harris) that something, er… not human is making it’s rounds around the psych ward, which goes over about as well as a fart in church.

The drab grey color scheme and the movies utterly self-serious delivery of campy situations and lines, without a smidgen of irony or humor, should single-handedly sink this enterprise, but it would almost just barely get by as a passable movie if it weren’t for the spectacularly dreadful ‘twist’ at the end. I won’t spoil the delight of this abomination for you here in my review, but let’s just say it’s been done in other movies, and done better, many times. I’m starting to think if you don’t have a truly innovative and interesting twist, you should just forgo the damn thing and stick with a straightforward plot.

The acting here is okay (‘okay’ in that I didn’t want to scratch my eyes out, but I still I still wasn’t overly impressed ,) The main problem (besides the super-hokey twist ending) is that the movie takes itself far too seriously without delivering any real scares. It lacks a real sense of purpose and terror, yet lacks the strength to go all the way as a satire or even a comedy-horror hybrid.Being simultaneously corny and grim isn’t a good position for a fright flick to take. And we never really care that much about Kristen, as Amber Heard’s performance lacks the ferocity or the plausibility to take her beyond the realm of poorly written heroines.

I highly recommend you avoid The Ward like the plague. In attempting to kick-start his career, John Carpenter has committed the worst of moviemaking vices- he’s wasted his time, and ours. A failure on almost every concievable level, The Ward is best forgotten and moved past as a regrettable misstep in Carpenter’s career.

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The Changeling (1980)

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Old houses are evil. But if I owned a mansion as nice as the one George C. Scott has in this movie, I’d take a chance on the vengeful child spirit. Scott plays John Russell, an unflappable musical composer coping with the unexpected death of his daughter (Michelle Martin) and wife (Jean Marsh.) Russell moves into a gorgeous old house intent on doing some work on his music and attempting to move on from his loss, but before you can say “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” strange and eerie things start happening in the mansion. Largely unperturbed, and aided by lady friend and love interest Claire Norman (Scott’s real-life wife, Trish Van Devere,) John decides to investigate.

I won’t go into who haunts the house or why, because it would cheat you out of the experience of seeing the movie and finding out for yourself, but I will say The Changeling is an eerie (a bit too dated to be truly frightening) horror classic with a great deal of mystery. The best part was when John Russell finds a secret passage behind a wooden shelf in his closet that leads to a hidden room. That meant a great deal to me, because when I was a youngster I used to spend vast expanses of time searching for hidden panels and doors in my a hundred-year-old but strangely unexceptional home (I might have also been looking for a wormhole to Narnia, but let’s not focus on my childhood obsessions.)

The characters were a bit underdeveloped (John being weirdly nonreactive to the supernatural mayhem around him while Claire plays the role of the typical classic heroine, shrieking and fretting constantly until you want to tell her if she can’t deal with a little ghostly hi jinks, she needn’t get involved at all.) John’s motivations actually make a lot of sense; as a recently bereaved husband and father a suggestion of life after death should be a relief to him. He’s already experienced so much grief, more than he lets on, why should the spooky antics of a spirit not at rest break him? However, although George C. Scott does an amazing job balancing stoicism and unfathomable grief, his character left me a little cold. And I had no use for Van Devere’s shrieking woman in peril, who falls in little flat from the perspective of someone who has seen so many bad-ass women portrayed in movies, or at least women with something to do in the script except wail and tremble in abject terror.

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That said, I really do like The Changeling. It’s a classical ghost story with a lot of atmosphere; no gore or lurid shocks to be seen. If you like movies like The Others with Nicole Kidman (one of my favorites, and superior in many ways to the much-hyped The Sixth Sense,) you’ll like this.  I love that The Others in all likelihood borrowed the character idea of a elderly caretaker named Mr. Tuttle, a homage that none but the most perceptive horror fans will probably  catch. Although I feel sorry in a way for the wronged spirit, just a boy at the time of his death, I thought he acted a little harshly in punishing the senator (Melvyn Douglas,) indirectly related to his murder but still the only remaining opportunity to get revenge on a living person.

I really felt for Melvyn Douglas’ character, who discovers something no one should have to learn about their much-loved father. While Douglas is the ‘changeling’ of the title, he’s not as much a perpetrator as a fellow unfortunate who was nevertheless lucky enough to live to a ripe old age and achieve success, while the spirit languished and limbo and allowed his hate to grow.

  The Changeling isn’t really a horror movie of a keep-you-up-all-night variety, it’s low-key and dated and in  all actuality not terribly scary. On the other hand, if you like murder mysteries that will keep you guessing and that incorporate a creepy supernatural element, this movie is for you. It takes a somewhat old soul or fan of older horror to appreciate this; it isn’t for those that crave instant gratification or get impatient easily. It’s a mood piece, graced by the formidable presence of George C. Scott. But it will survive when the majority of modern fright flicks are forgotten in junkyards somewhere.

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We Are Still Here (2015)

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When will you silly people ever learn? When the house starts doing weird shit, get the hell out of it. And when in doubt, keep away from the basement.

A grieving couple must face human adversaries as well as ghostly ones when they move into a isolated, spooky old house in “We Are Still Here,” a fun, over – the – top, and delightfully gruesome (if sometimes painfully cliched) indie horror flick. All the markers are there of a Hollywood ghost film – a couple too stupid or too skeptical to leave a fucked -up ghost inhabited house, creepy sounds, things that go bump in the night, sinister locals, and a ball that goes bouncing down a set of stairs when – wait for it – nobody threw the damn thing to begin with!

What separates this film from others of it’s ilk, for better or for worse, a  whole lotta gore.Things go squish and people become human soup a lot more than is typical (or perhaps necessary) for this type of film. The acting is dodgy, although the two leads (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) are surprisingly good. Crampton is surprisingly touching as a mother who recently lost her child in a film that, to be honest, generally doesn’t allow for much pathos.

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Crampton and Sensenig play Anne and Paul Sachetti, a couple devastated by the loss of their teenage son a few months prior. They maintain a affectionate, if somewhat stagnant relationship and Paul tries his best to comfort Anne amidst her deepening grief. Paul moves Anne to a remote house in the country in hope that a change of pace will be beneficial to her. No sooner have they moved in than Anne begins feeling her dead son’s presence.

She tries to tell her husband she believes that the old house is haunted, but he remains ever the skeptic, trying to talk some sense into the troubled woman. Soon thereafter, the couple, fist Anne, then Paul – are haunted by visions of a burnt -up family. Against her husband’s wishes. Anne invites over two hippy -dippy friends of her’s – good -humored stoner Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and flaky psychic May (Lisa Marie) to conduct a seance, which is when, as they say, shit gets real.

All this is set in the dead of winter, filmed so that the viewer can practically feel the cold brushing against their skin. I haven’t seen such a chilly wintery horror film since “Let the Right One In.” And this is no “Let the Right One In.” But it’s fun, a spooky, cheesy Halloween time diversion. It walks the line between creepiness and outright (intentional?) comedy, sporadically collapsing in a heap into pure camp. Come on, guys? Who else laughed when the possessed guy swallowed the sock? It was hysterical! It can’t be only sick, jaded bitches like me who find this shit funny!

Simply put, I wasn’t scared by this movie. But I was entertained. The director does a decent job building tension and the gore (no pun intended) is to die for. I can understand why people wouldn’t like this movie. A lot of aspects of it are, for lack of a better word, weak. But as a bombastic, bloody whole, it’s worth a watch by horror fans who like cheeky, subversive gorefests that maybe can’t compare with the spookier, more atmospheric horror flicks, but are decent scare films in their own right (even if this one didn’t scare me as much as keep me in stitches.) I didn’t look away from the screen once, didn’t get bored with the goings-on, didn’t check the time. Shouldn’t that count for something?

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Mama (2013)

“Mama” is a eerily different and creepy ghost story with great performances from the child actors. Young Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) have spent 5 years in a cabin in the woods after their father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldaudies,) alone except for a ghostly presence they call Mama. When they are rescued by and put into the custody their dad’s twin brother (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his metalhead musician  wife Annabelle (Jessica Chastain,) who doesn’t want the responsibility of kids.

The special thing thing about this movie is the lack of typical ‘bad guys’ (Mama is disturbed and overprotective, but also a tragic figure) and the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT many horror films lack. You end up both feeling for these little girls (who return to civilization filthy, emaciated and feral) and being a little creeped out by them due to the clever writing and the girl’s great performances.

The CGI can be a little shoddy and there are plot holes present, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying the creepy, emotional, and compelling story. There where some very touching moments and I found myself still becoming uneasy on my second viewing, which hardly ever happens. I found the development of Annabelle’s character and her transformation from rocker with no real responsibilities to devoted surrogate mom fighting a jealous supernatural force interesting.

I will now voice my minority opinion and say this movie was better than the recent supernatural thriller “The Conjuring.” While “The Conjuring” was perhaps a movie with better visual effects and more audience appeal, it never really got me interested in the characters. They were simply victims, struggling against a tide of bizarre supernatural events that were beyond their earthly grasp.

On the other hand, I felt like the characters in “Mama” were well written and developed, and well I thought the young girls were the highlight of the film, the rest of the cast was quite good too. The child actors display range and prowess beyond their young years, and I hope to see more of them in the time to come.

And then there’s ‘Mama’, who’s overall a rather confusing character, but also eerie and ambiguous. You feel for her, and you fear her wrath, in equal measure. I recommend this movie to horror buffs, but also to people who like just a good emotional riveting story. It’s not a horror classic, but it’s worth watching as ‘light horror’ for genre fans and scaredy cats alike.

Undertow (2009)

Not to be confused with the 2004 Josh Lucas Dermot Mulroney rural thriller, 2009’s “Undertow” is quite simply a delight. It stands as the debut feature of Latin filmmaker Javier Fuentes-León, but luckily his newness to the craft doesn’t show. Well-acted, made, and written, “Undertow” takes to the concept of ghostly unrest with a warm, offbeat spirituality.


   The film takes place in a small Peruvian village where everybody is up everybody else’s butt by habit. Not a good place to be gay. So local fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) retreats deeply into the closet, complete with wife and unborn child, while he carries on a steamy but loving affair with the village outcast and artist, Santiago (Manolo Cardona.)

   Miguel’s wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) is a nice person, and she performs her wifely duties. Why is this happening to her, she laments as she becomes aware of Miguel’s unfaithfulness. When Santiago unexpectedly dies, his spirit stays bound to earth and remains with Miguel. Together they are happy, but Santiago’s ghost longs to move on.

   There are no scares in this film, and no villains. Even the town gossip Isaura (Cindy Díaz) turns out not to be so bad. There are myriad differences between this and an American movie. First is Miguel’s lack of disbelief at his lover’s ghostly return. The body is missing, and Santiago looks the same. In a US film there would be lots of frantic, maybe comedic attempts to prove that Santiago is in fact dead.

   Maybe there would be gags involving ghosts popping up at inopportune moments, and people walking right through ghostly entities. And maybe there’s a bit of that, but the whole thing is taken much more naturally than one might expect. Santiago is dead. He has come back as a ghost. Miguel almost immediately believes him because, honestly, who would make up a thing like that? He needs no proof. He goes on faith.

   It takes a very spiritual society to do something like that with a ghost story. What proceeds is the touching examination of the men’s love from beyond the grave, and Mariala’s increasing grief and disenchantment. The men of the village are fairly homophobic, but they’re never portrayed as meaner than the plot requires them to be. The acting is great from Mercado (Miguel,) Cardona (Santiago,) and Astengo (Mariela.) All three are thoroughly believable in their roles.

   If you’re looking for a scary, fright-filled horror movie this is not for you. If you’re looking for straight-out gay erotica this is not your movie either; the sex scenes are brief and non-explicit. But if you want to see a touching picture that will make you think and, perhaps, put a tear in your eye, this is for you. The supernatural element is pulled off gracefully, as is the human interest element. You will care about these characters, and you might even find yourself thinking about them when the movie is over.