Fright Club: Best Jump Scares

We spend a lot of time ripping on weak and lazy jump scares. But today we want to acknowledge that, when done well, jump scares can be an incredibly effective tool for a horror filmmaker.

Here are our 10 favorite jump scares from horror movies.

10. It Follows (2014): tall man at the door

This movie is a freak show of scares beginning to end, and the different images the demon takes throughout is forever terrifying and fascinating. But it was the tall man at the door that really got to us.

9. Les Diaboliques (1955): alive in the tub

First of all, this is a spoiler. But the film came out 65 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it by now (we even showed it once!), that’s on you, man. It’s a classic, and a classic scare.

8. The Ring (2002): I saw her face

Again, here is a film chocker block full of utterly fantastic creeps, all told a moment at a time. But it was that first one, when we see Samara’s first victim, that set the stage and made us jump out of our seats.

7. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): under the sink

So much nuttiness, so many confusing ideas to keep track of, such a master class piece of atmosphere building in this film. You just are not expecting jump scares in this one. And yet, as one dinner party goes wrong…

6. Hereditary (2018): signpost

Tell us you saw this one coming and we will tell you that you are a liar.

5. Carrie (1976): Carrie White’s grave

Oh holy shit. You think Sue Snell has been through enough, what with missing out on prom and watching every friend she has die in a flaming blood bath. But you would think wrong.

4. Audition (1999): What’s in the bag?

Ring ring. Ring ring. The way Takashi Miike frames this scene, lovely Asami’s hair draped in front of her, her spine showing, that loud phone – you can’t take your eyes off her, waiting for her to rouse, to answer. You might not even notice that burlap sack…

3. Jaws (1975): Hey, it’s Bruce!

Jaws has two classic jump scares, and it was hard to pick. Remember when Hooper’s digging that tooth out of Ben Gardner’s boat and then, all the the sudden, a human head! Well, that would have been enough for most movies, but after waiting nearly 2/3 of the film to see that shark, Steven Spielberg introduces his lead with authority.

2. The Conjuring (2013): bureau

James Wan’s instant classic haunted house movie also boasts more than one strong contender for this list. That hand clapping scene, showcased in the trailer, was reason enough for us to buy our tickets. But the one that did the most damage starts with a sleep walker and ends with the best jump scare in the last twenty years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOgC_YUyTYs

1. The Exorcist III: guy in the hall

There are so many utterly priceless moments in this underrated horror show: Patrick Ewing and Fabio as angels, Sam Jackson as a blind man, that terrifying confessional scene. But there is this one flash of white that is the reason everybody who sees this movie remembers it.

Fright Club: Nobody Dies

Leave it to our Correspondent from the Future, Cory Metcalfe, to come up with this killer topic. We rank the best horror films in which not one single person dies—not during the running time, anyway. And yet, they’re scary. Well, they range from funny to spooky to unsettling to terrifying, but these films prove that a good filmmaker can terrify you without pushing the knife all the way in.

5. Compliance (2012)

Compliance is an unsettling, frustrating and upsetting film about misdirected and misused obedience. It’s also one of the most impeccably made and provocative films of 2012 – a cautionary tale that’s so unnerving it’s easier just to disbelieve. But don’t.

Writer/director Craig Zobel – who began his career as co-creator of the brilliant comic website Homestar Runner (so good!) – takes a decidedly dark turn with this “based-on-true-events” tale. It’s a busy Friday night at a fast food joint and they’re short staffed. Then the police call and say a cashier has stolen some money from a customer’s purse.

A Milgram’s experiment come to life, the film spirals into nightmare as the alleged thief’s colleagues agree to commit increasingly horrific deeds in the name of complying with authority.



4. They Look Like People (2015)

Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is killing it. He’s benching 250 now, looks mussed but handsome as he excels at work, and he’s even gotten up the nerve to ask out his smokin’ hot boss. On his way home from work to change for that date he runs into his best friend from childhood, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), who’s looking a little worse for wear. Christian doesn’t care. With just a second’s reluctance, Christian invites him in – to his apartment, his date, and his life.

But there is something seriously wrong with Wyatt.

Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s film nimbly treads the same ground as the wonderful Frailty and the damn near perfect Take Shelter in that he uses sympathetic characters and realistic situations to blur the line between mental illness and the supernatural.

3. The Conjuring (2014)

James Wan’s classic haunted house tale delivered real scares from start to finish. Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to, eschewing CGI for practical effects and understanding that our physical danger is not always as terrifying as what could happen to our souls.

2. Freaks (1932)

Short and sweet, like most of its performers, Tod Browning’s controversial film Freaks is one of those movies you will never forget. Populated almost entirely by unusual actors – midgets, amputees, the physically deformed, and an honest to god set of conjoined twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton) – Freaks makes you wonder whether you should be watching it at all. This, of course, is an underlying tension in most horror films, but with Freaks, it’s right up front. Is what Browning does with the film empathetic or exploitative, or both? And, of course, am I a bad person for watching this film?

Well, that’s not for us to say. We suspect you may be a bad person, perhaps even a serial killer. Or maybe that’s Hope. What we can tell you for sure is that this film is unsettling, and the final, rainy act of vengeance is truly creepy to watch.

1. The Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

Fright Club: Divine Missions in Horror

“We’re on a mission from God.”

That might be one of many iconic lines from The Blues Brothers, but it speaks to some of the great storylines in horror—sometimes misdirected, sometimes well-intentioned, always scary. Here we pick through the many, including the dozens of tried and true exorcism flicks, to zero in on those that are truly faithful to their calling to serve God, no matter the generally disastrous, often bloody results.

5. Red State (2011)

I actually got to talk to Kevin Smith about a year before Red State was released. Our official topic was his Smodcasts, but given my particular weakness for genre filmmaking, I veered the questions toward his forthcoming entrance into horror.

He told me: “For years I’ve called myself a filmmaker, but it’s not really true. Really I just make Kevin Smith movies. I’m at that stage where I could make a Kevin Smith Movie with my eyes closed. Let me see if I can make another movie.”

That other movie was Red State – an underrated gem. Deceptively straightforward, Smith’s tale of a small, violently devout cult taken to using the internet to trap “homos and fornicators” for ritualistic murder cuts deeper than you might expect. Not simply satisfied with liberal finger-wagging, Smith’s film leaves no character burdened by innocence.

Pastor Abin Cooper spellbinds as delivered to us by Tarantino favorite Michael Parks. Never a false note, never a clichéd moment, Parks’s award-worthy performance fuels the entire picture.

There’s enough creepiness involved to call this a horror film, but truth be told, by about the midway point it turns to corrupt government action flick, with slightly lesser results. Still, the dialogue is surprisingly smart, and the cast brims with rock solid character actors, including John Goodman, Stephen Root, Melissa Leo and Kevin Pollak.

Smith said at the time: “I think we have something. It’s creepy and very finger-on-the-pulse and very much about America.”

Agreed.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.

Yes, this is an old-fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with this effort.

Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re watching and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ

3. Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013)

This film is tough to watch, and the fact that it is based on a true story only makes the feat of endurance that much harder. But writer-director Katrin Gebbe mines this horrific tale for a peculiar point of view that suits it brilliantly and ensures that it is never simply a gratuitous wallowing in someone else’s suffering.

Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is an awkward teen in Germany. His best friend is Jesus. He means it. In fact, he’s so genuine and pure that when he lays his hands on stranded motorist Benno’s (Sascha Alexander Gersak) car, the engine starts.

Thus begins a relationship that devolves into a sociological exploration of button-pushing evil and submission to your own beliefs. Feldmeier is wondrous—so tender and vulnerable you will ache for him. Gersak is his equal in a role of burgeoning cruelty. The whole film has a, “you’re making me do this,” mentality that is hard to shake. It examines one peculiar nature of evil and does it so authentically as to leave you truly shaken.

2. Frailty (2001)

“He can make me dig this stupid hole, but he can’t make me pray.”

Aah, adolescence. We all bristle against our dad’s sense of morality and discipline, right? Well, some have a tougher time of it than others.

Bill Paxton (who also directs) stars as a widowed country dad awakened one night by an angel—or a bright light shining off the angel on top of a trophy on his ramshackle bedroom bookcase. Whichever—he understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Whatever its flaws— too languid a pace, too trite an image of idyllic country life, Powers Boothe—Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them. We’re led through the saga of the serial killer God’s Hand by a troubled young man (Matthew McConaughey), who, with eerie quiet and reflection, recounts his childhood with Paxton’s character as a father.

Dread mounts as Paxton drags out the ambiguity over whether this man is insane, and his therefore good-hearted but wrong-headed behavior profoundly damaging his boys. Or could he really be chosen, and his sons likewise marked by God?

1. The Exorcist

For evocative, nerve jangling, demonic horror, you will not find better than The Exorcist.

Slow-moving, richly textured, gorgeously and thoughtfully framed, The Exorcist follows a very black and white, good versus evil conflict: Father Merrin V Satan for the soul of an innocent child.

But thanks to an intricate and nuanced screenplay adapted by William Peter Blatty from his own novel, the film boasts any number of flawed characters struggling to find faith and to do what’s right in this situation. And thanks to director William Friedkin’s immaculate filming, we are entranced by early wide shots of a golden Middle East, then brought closer to watch people running here and there on the Georgetown campus or on the streets of NYC.

Then we pull in a bit more: interiors of Chris MacNeil’s (Ellen Burstyn) place on location, the hospital where Fr. Karras’s mother is surrounded by forgotten souls, the labs and conference rooms where an impotent medical community fails to cure poor Regan (Linda Blair).

Then even closer, in the bedroom, where you can see Regan’s breath in the chilly air, and examine the flesh rotting off her young face. Here, in the intimacy, there’s no escaping that voice, toying with everyone with such vulgarity.

The voice belongs to Mercedes McCambridge, and she may have been the casting director’s greatest triumph. Of course, Jason Miller as poor, wounded Fr. Damien Karras could not have been better. Indeed, he, Burstyn, and young Linda Blair were all nominated for Oscars.

So was Friedkin, the director who balanced every scene to expose its divinity and warts, and to quietly build tension. When he was good and ready, he let that tension burst into explosions of terrifying mayhem that became a blueprint for dozens of films throughout the Seventies and marked a lasting icon for the genre.





Hello, Dolly

Annabelle: Creation

by Hope Madden

There are a lot of things James Wan’s 2013 hit The Conjuring got right. Leaning toward practical effects over CGI, casting high-quality talent, and digging into an allegedly true story – all good choices that, matched with his eye for framing and skill with mounting dread, led to a chilling and memorable flick.

There’s also a creepy doll, the element that seems to be driving this unexpected franchise and the only item from the original film that made the leap to Annabelle: Creation.

You remember her – she terrorized a young family, and later a pair of nursing students before being locked in a glass case in that creepy room at Ed and Lorraine Warren’s house.

But did you ever wonder what kind of demonic hijinks created her in the first place? Or do you just find yourself in the mood to watch orphans being persecuted? Either way, may I introduce you to Annabelle: Creation?

Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) does what he does best, relying on good, old-fashioned jump scares. If that’s your bag – and you don’t get side tracked with nit-picky things like how utterly ignorant writer Gary Dauberman is of actual Catholicism (so maybe he shouldn’t have chosen a Catholic orphanage!) – then this film may be for you.

Years after a doll maker and his wife lose their precious daughter, they accidentally conjure up a demon to live in the single ugliest doll any toy maker has ever seen fit to make.

Bad choice.

Worse choice? Inviting those orphans to move in.

Welp, empty-headed horror it is. And there is something to be said for that in a mid-August slump. This is the sequel to a weak film, itself a sequel of sorts to the kind of movie that felt like a one-off.

It seems unlikely a franchise was the expectation back when Conjuring hit screens in ’13. Since then, filmmakers have scrambled to cobble together a universe of supernatural spookiness to spin off and connect. (Look closely at the picture from Sister Charlotte’s convent – any of those nuns look familiar?)

Sandberg offers little in the way of originality. (He’s clearly a pretty big fan of Wan’s Insidious.) But there are jumps aplenty and a couple of very freaky images in the third act.

Because if you can’t have a creepy nun, may as well make due with a disfigured mother and a scarecrow.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Day 22: The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)

Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.

The farmhouse’s previous residents may be dead, but they haven’t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the couple’s cases.

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with this effort.

A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch.

Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re watching and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ





Fright Club: Best Haunted House Movies

The Poltergeist reboot has us talking about the great haunted house movies over the years and how much they’ve changed. From the creaky old mansions to suburban horror to the curse that will stay with you even after you leave, ghosts have always been able to scare moviegoers and us. Here are our 5 favorite ghost stories:

5. Poltergeist (1982)

This aggressive take on the haunted house tale wraps director Tobe Hooper’s potent horrors inside producer Steven Spielberg’s brightly lit suburbia.

Part of the original’s success emerged from pairing universal childhood fears – clowns, thunderstorms, that creepy tree – with the adult terror of helplessness in the face of your own child’s peril. JoBeth Williams’s performance of vulnerable optimism gives the film a heartbeat, and the unreasonably adorable Heather O’Rourke creeps us out while tugging our heartstrings.

Splashy effects, excellent casting, Spielberg’s heart and Hooper’s gut combine to create a flick that holds up. Solid performances and the pacing of a blockbuster provide the film a respectable thrill, but Hooper’s disturbing imagination guarantees some lingering jitters.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

James Wan built an old fashioned ghost story from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to.

Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ

3. The Orphanage (2007)

Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband reopen the orphanage where she grew up, with the goal of running a house for children with special needs – children like her adopted son Simón, who is HIV positive. But Simón’s new imaginary friends worry Laura, and when he disappears it looks like she may be imagining things herself.

A scary movie can be elevated beyond measure by a masterful score and an artful camera. Because director Antonio Bayona keeps the score and all ambient noise to a minimum, allowing the quiet to fill the scenes, he develops a truly haunting atmosphere. His camera captures the eerie beauty of the stately orphanage, but does it in a way that always suggests someone is watching. The effect is never heavy handed, but effortlessly eerie.

One of the film’s great successes is its ability to take seriously both the logical, real world story line, and the supernatural one. Rueda carries the film with a restrained urgency – hysterical only when necessary, focused at all times, and absolutely committed to this character, who may or may not be seeing ghosts.

2. The Innocents (1961)

Quietly desperate and delicately high strung, Deborah Kerr’s performance is the perfect central image in The Innocents, the best of many screen adaptations of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Is Kerr’s hypersensitive governess turning delusional as she spirals toward spinsterhood, or are her angelic charges in danger of becoming possessed by the spectral lovers who seem to haunt the property?

Thanks to Kerr, the wickedly cherubic turn by Martin Stephens as young Miles, and Freddie Francis’s gorgeous black and white photography, this eerie ghost story is a glorious study in the shadowy line between reality and imagination. Countless films – good ones, like The Orphanage and The Others – have walked similar, spooky hallways, but The Innocents will always be the standard bearer.

1. The Shining (1980)

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrence’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

Let’s not forget Jack. Nicholson outdoes himself. His veiled contempt early on blossoms into homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

What image stays with you most? The two creepy little girls? The blood pouring out of the elevator? The impressive afro in the velvet painting above Scatman Crothers’s bed? That guy in the bear suit – what was going on there? Whatever the answer, thanks be to Kubrick’s deviant yet tidy imagination.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcat.





Fright Club: Best Horror 2010 – 2015

It’s official. Our flux capacitor is running out of power, our time travels are coming to a close. We’ve highlighted the best horror films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, and now it’s time to bring things up to the present with the best in horror from 2010 – 2015. Who would have thought that list would be so hard to put together?

What do we wish we didn’t have to leave off? Indies like The Woman, Kill List, The Snowtown Murders; major releases like Evil Dead and The Woman in Black; foreign language gems like Big Bad Wolves, The Last Circus, We Are What We Are and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. All of this convinces us that we are in the midst of a horror movie rennaissance – hooray!

So what did make the cut? Here you go:

5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ

3. Let Me In (2010)

With Hollywood’s 2010 reboot of the near-perfect 2008 Swedish film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul.

Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h39ikMdei4

2. The Babadook (2014)

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. It Follows (2015)

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years. He’s crafted a coming of age tale that mines for primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted another cautionary tale about premarital sex. Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.





Countdown: Movies You Can’t Turn Off

As we sat and watched Jaws for the 400th time last weekend, we laughed about all the movies that – when we find them on TV, no matter where in the film we switch on – we are compelled to watch to the end. It’s 11:30 pm and we stumble upon the opening diner sequence from Pulp Fiction? It looks like we’ll be up til 1:30 today. We’ve pulled together the list of films we cannot turn off when we find them on TV. What’d we miss?

Jaws (1975)

This is the top one for us. George, in particular, has seen this movie dozens and dozens of times. It’s an absolute marvel, and while every watching of course brings back memories, there truly is something new to notice every time you see Jaws. Spielberg’s raw talent, for example. Or John Williams’s pitch-perfect score. Jaws is always thrilling, always scary, always amazing.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s a masterpiece that sucks you in no matter when you turn it on because every scene is a work of utter genius. Every character is as cool as can be, every exchange is more fun to watch than anything else you’re going to find on TV, and it’s the kind of movie absolutely no one ever really made before or since. There is nothing quite like Pulp Fiction, which is why you should watch it at every opportunity.

 

Die Hard (1988)

This is George’s favorite movie of all time, so it kind of goes without saying that it stays on if we come across it. And why not? The iconic Eighties game changer altered the course of action movies with its wiseass underdog, confined terror and magnificent Euro-trash villains. Not enough can be said for the smarmy brilliance of Alan Rickman, and watching Bruce Willis at the top of his game is always fun, too.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This is Hope’s favorite movie of all time. There are no flaws in this movie. The fact that a movie wherein a man who eats human flesh helps the FBI track a man who wears human flesh could go on to win every major Oscar says about as much for the craftsmanship behind this movie as anything could. It’s Jonathan Demme’s greatest achievement and one of the greatest films ever made.

Caddyshack (1980)

When you can say every line along with the film you are watching, you’ve seen the film too many times. And yet, is it possible to watch Caddyshack too often? Ted Knight! Rodney Dangerfield! Bill F. Murray! No, it is not. Somehow this weird accumulation of spontaneous insanity remains fresh 35 years on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrTqenN1SqQ

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Another one that’s funny no matter how often you see it, Lebowski benefits from magnificent writing and superb direction (as is always the case with The Brothers Coen), but more than anything, the film demands rapt attention because of Jeff Bridges’s magical lead turn. Well, demand is kind of a fascist word. It’s just a really, really hard movie to turn off, man.

Alien (1979)

From the moment Nostromo lands – allegedly drawn by a distress signal – Ridley Scott’s horror/SciFi hybrid starts building horrific tension. Nobody wants to be awakened unexpectedly. This crew seems weary of their mission and tired of each other. Scott’s drained all the color from the crew and the set – it’s like being trapped in a bad dream that’s only going to get worse. And yet, we just can’t turn away.

Aliens (1986)

You can’t have one without the other. Where Ridley Scott’s original was a slow build horror show, James Cameron’s is a badass action flick and Sigourney Weaver is equally at home in either genre. Cameron abandons claustrophobia, opening the film up with death trap labyrinths and expanding the terror with an army of acid-blood monsters. This is the very best kind of high octane fun.

The Conjuring (2013)

Thank God for HBO because The Conjuring is on almost daily now. The thirtieth time you jump at the same damn ghost, you know a movie has got something, and we’re telling you, every time little Cindy Perron starts sleep walking into that bureau, we tense up. Yes, there are silly moments in this nuts and bolts haunted house flick, but director James Wan understands pacing and knows when flesh and blood are scarier than FX. The result is a fun, jumpy night with one stinky, foot grabbing ghost.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Richard Linklater’s wonderful, rambling ode to coming of age in the Seventies pops up a lot, lately. We usually come in right about the time a handful of freshmen are conning Ben Affleck’s delightfully dickish Fred O’Bannion that there’s a cherry ass to beat. Whether it’s Matthew McConaughey’s most iconic character or the way Linklater and cast languidly capture both a time period and a universal right of passage – or maybe it’s just wanting in on that party – we are always hooked.





Halloween Countdown, Day 11

The Conjuring (2013)

If there’s a sure fire hit for your Halloween viewing pleasure, it’s the scariest movie of 2013: The Conjuring.

Welcome to 1971, the year the Perron family took one step inside their new home and screamed with horror, “My God, this wallpaper is hideous!”

Seriously, it often surprises me that civilization made it through the Seventies. Must every surface and ream of fabric be patterned? Still, the Perrons found survival tougher than most.

The farmhouse’s previous residents may be dead, but they haven’t left, and they are testy! So the Perrons have no choice but to look up paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real life couple linked to many famous American hauntings, including one in Amityville, NY. The Conjuring is allegedly based on one of the couple’s cases.

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

A game cast helps. Joining five believably terrified girls in solid performances are Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and the surprisingly well-suited Ron Livingston as the helpless patriarch. The usually sublime Lili Taylor is uncharacteristically flat as the clan’s loving mother, unfortunately, but there’s more than enough to distract you from that.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re watching and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjk2So3KvSQ





Diary of a Creepy-Ass Doll

Annabelle

by Hope Madden

Who doesn’t love a creepy-ass doll? Someone must, right? Doesn’t everybody’s old auntie keep a display case of them right in the guest bedroom where you have to sleep when you visit? And you really want to close the windows because the curtains are blowing in that menacing way, but you’d have to walk right past the display case. Well, that old auntie needs to see Annabelle. It’s for her own good. Because you have been right about those nefarious dolls all this time.

Yes, the horrid looking doll that introduced us to The Conjuring – hands-down the best horror film of 2013 – is back with a film all her own. It’s the dawning of the Seventies and a young pregnant housewife gets a gift from her devoted husband – a hideous vintage doll. Oh, how they cherish her…until she tries to eat their souls.

Old fashioned dolls are absolutely terrifying, but only in small doses. Luckily, director John Leonetti (upgraded from cinematographer on The Conjuring) understands this and presents three different faces for the scares. None is overplayed, each is genuinely frightening in its own right, and the anxiety over which might show up where keeps the tension tight.

Annabelle Wallis (seriously, the lead’s real name is the same as the doll’s!) turns in a solid enough performance as the vulnerable mom looking for the strength to protect her newborn from evil. Alfre Woodard manages to find some dignity in an obvious and underwritten character.

Ward Horton has less luck showcasing a pulse as supportive husband John. If you don’t pay close attention you might mistake him for a walking slice of Wonder Bread.

But they don’t really matter, do they? What matters is this: how scary is the doll and how cute is that baby she’s trying to harm?

Very and very.

The screenplay by Gary Dauberman throws in enough fun, unexpected scares to keep you jumpy while Leonetti tosses in some knowing nods toward iconic genre flicks. And while he cannot touch the timestamp authenticity of The Conjuring, the film has some fun with early Seventies images and ideas.

Annabelle never comes close to the near-classic status The Conjuring reached, but it’s a fun seasonal flick. Take your aunt. You may just save her soul.

Verdict-3-0-Stars