The Entity (1982) is based on a notorious paranormal case study from 1974, where a California woman's claim to have been repeatedly assaulted and molested by some supernatural being were allegedly verified. Sidney Furie's cinematic adaption of the novel culled from the same reports is not a pleasant film-watching experience -- just as it should be. Nasty and quite brutal in spots, the filmmakers might've been shooting for realism but their end results might prove a little too voyeuristic-ally lecherous for some as the camera lingers and lingers during the sexual assaults as the pulsing soundtrack beats the audience over the head with. the. steady. hammer. and. tong. of. it's. SIGNIFICANCE! The film also clearly draws a line in the sand between the psychological and para-psychological approach to resolving the victim's dilemma by first showing the impotence of the former to amplify the 'last hope' of the latter. A rock-solid performance by Barbara Hershey and some top-notch F/X work gives the film more punch than it probably deserves; and the whole thing is almost undone by a fairly ridiculous climax where an ersatz group of Ghostbusters try to capture the spectral serial rapist with a glorified snow-blower, which goes about as well you'd think.
A creepy and atmospheric tale of ghosts and vengeful spirits, The Living Skeleton (1968) revolves around a woman whose twin sister was murdered at sea, along with the rest of the ship's crew, by a band of pirates. And while the rest of the world thinks the freighter was lost in a typhoon, our girl knows better, thanks to a metaphysical link with the deceased. So is it she or the ghost of her sister taking out the guilty pirates, one by one? Ah, for that you'll have to watch and find out for yourselves. But I will say be ready for a truly wonderful five car twist pile up as you creep into the climax. Kooky visuals, highly atmospheric, and a really trippy Ennio Morricone inspired score makes this one highly recommended.
With its suburban setting, shrill and screaming kids, komedic elements, and Jerry Goldsmith doing his best to emulate John Williams, it's easy to understand why folks tend to forget that Tobe Hooper, and not Steven Spielberg, directed Poltergeist (1982). (And if you dig into the press materials and promotional campaigns, Hooper's treatment is even worse.) Sure, Spielberg's fingerprints were all over this thing but Hooper's are there, too, fighting to get out, in this tale of a Yuppie couple's house being overrun by a battalion of nasty apparitions who, when not destroying the furniture, somehow, kidnap their daughter and take her to the other side and their efforts to get her back. Even with thirty years tacked on the practical F/X set-pieces in Poltergeist hold up amazingly well with only one small, face-melting hiccup. (Three cheers for old-school ILM.) Also, the climax with the pool chock full of corpses and the graves erupting out of the ground is a fantastic exercise in the Grand Guignol tradition. And anchoring the whole thing are JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the mom and pop in way over their heads, with an added bonus of Zelda Rubenstein as the psychic pitbull who prematurely saves the day. Again, you can sense Hooper and Spielberg's clashing sensibilities through the whole thing but this schism somehow gels into one helluva an entertaining film.
Due to some clumsy foreshadowing (that is less the filmmakers fault and more of mine for seeing way too many of these kinda things), I knew exactly where and how Ti West's The Innkeepers (2011) was gonna end, and end tragically, which only left the question of it being worth it to get to the when. And it is, mostly due to the efforts of Pat Healy and (especially) Sarah Paxton as the innkeepers in question of our haunted hotel. See, these two slackers also moonlight as amateur ghost hunters, and with the inn set to close after one final weekend, the duo poke around and explore every nook and cranny looking for proof that the place really is haunted by the mournful spirit of a guest who tragically died several decades ago. And to their eventual regret, turns out their 'proof' doesn't like being disturbed. Somewhat surprisingly, considering West's (brief) reputation as the savior of cinematic horror, The Innkeepers cooks along at a very low temperature, but this slow and steady burn gives the final boil-over a lot more punch. And after being fairly disappointed by most of his efforts, color me pleasantly surprised by this one.
Right off the bat, director David Twohy resolves the old conundrum of 'If your house is haunted by a murderously vengeful spirit, why don't you just leave the house' by setting his morbid and creepifying tale of supernatural vengeance on a submarine somewhere in the North Atlantic against the backdrop of World War II, and thus, traps his players inside between the ghost below and a tenacious German frigate above. From their, Below (2002) plays out like one of those old EC Horror Comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror), which begins when the crew of the Tiger Shark pick up several shipwreck survivors, victims of a German U-Boat (-- he typed ominously), who slowly piece together why the submarine has suddenly developed a mind of its own, determined to reverse course by unseen hands. Plagued by a series of accidents, and as their air is poisoned due to lack of ventilation, driving everyone a little crazy, horrible secrets come bubbling to the surface as the guilty are exposed. But it may already be too late, as the malediction (look it up) that plagues this boat is more than happy to take out everyone to satisfy its needs. Blessed with an outstanding cast from stem to stern (with special nods to Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany and Olivia Williams, and to Jason Flemyng and Zach Galifianakis as our comedy relief), this movie just ratchets up the tension with each fathom breached. Even as a war movie, Below is top notch. And as a ghost story, it's even better.
Bloated on their F/X budgets, with no time for things like plot or character development, the late 1990s truly were a dark and perilous time for sci-fi and fantasy film enthusiasts as one cinematic turd after another was flushed down the theatrical toilet. Jan de Bont's The Haunting (1999) may just be the apex example of this (scoring a 15th round TKO over The Wild Wild West after surviving the brutal elimination rounds of poo-flinging with Godzilla (1998) and The Lost World (1997)). The reoccurring modus operandi appears to be a hope that audiences would be so enthralled by the sturm and drang of the special-effects everything else could be glossed over, but this universally backfired on all of them. (They made a shit-ton of money, sure, but imagine what kind of money would've been made if they were actually any good?) Watching The Haunting again, the F/X really are quite top notch, ground-breaking even, and the set and production designs were to die for, but the story all of that is plugged into is just so freakin' stoopid, and executed with such a ham-fisted fury, one actually feels kinda bad about making fun of it, and sorry for the actors involved, because the film never stood a chance. From the opening scene, de Bont blows his own foot off as everything Eleanor (Lili Taylor) is faced with and does is so overwrought and overdrawn, the audience is already laughing instead of feeling sympathetic (and worse yet, maybe even rooting against her). And don't even get me started on the leaden dialogue. (In the night. In the dark. Mostly.) The whole film feels over-cooked, actually, with the end result of everything that was supposed to be spooky and frightening only brings titters of derisive laughter. (One can only imagine what the original cut looked like before Spielberg saw it, panicked, and made everyone go back and 'fix it.') It also doesn't help that the production borrowed liberally from another haunted house tale, mixing Matheson's Hell House with Jackson's Hill House; both great tales that do not mix as well as you'd think. (And is it me, or does Hugh Crain kinda look like the faux Sasquatch from Shriek of the Mutilated?) And so, as a follow up to Wise's original version, and the novel itself, the film really wets the bed with its blatant attempt to spin things around to give us a 'happy ending.' Look, there's fun to be had and a lot to mock just for the sheer ostentatious-ness of the thing, and I don't mind staring at Catherine Zeta-Jones for an hour and half, either. And her one line always stuck with me: "It's like Charles Foster Kane meets The Munsters." Hammer, meet nail. And then Jerry Goldsmith ends the whole thing, rather aptly, with circus music over the closing credits, which can either be read as an apology or a sad excuse for what just transpired. So, there ya go.
Coming off the CGI-meggedon of The Haunting remake can really make a person appreciate the sheer knot of a fear induced by a child's toy simply bouncing down the stairs, launched by unseen hands, in The Changeling (1980) even more; and how utterly maddening dead silence can be as it refuses to reveal its secrets after the crap has gone through the fan. Wrapped around all of that, we have the tale of a husband (George C. Scott), who witnessed the tragic death of his family, moving to a different city to escape the reminders of those lost. Unfortunately, turns out his new residence is already occupied, spiritually speaking. At first thinking it might be the ghost of his own daughter, Scott starts poking around; and with the help of one of the coolest cinematic seances ever filmed, he soon uncovers a deeper mystery. And as he peels the layers off this malevolent onion (with the clues and family history, perhaps, coming a bit too easily), and gets closer to the truth, the worse these ghostly temper tantrums get, bringing himself and those around him into mortal danger. Kind of a precursor to those nasty Japanese cinematic tales of juvenile ghostly vengeance, all told, The Changeling is a crackerjack mystery, with a dash of political intrigue, tucked inside an extremely well-staged ghost story. Kudos to all involved.