31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #24 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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Director: George A. Romero

Writer(s): George A. Romero

Studio/Distributor: United Film Distribution Company

Budget: $1.5m

Box Office: $55m

Release Date: 1 September, 1978

IMDb Rating: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes – but hard to find!

Cast

David Emge – Stephen

Ken Foree – Peter

Scott H. Reiniger – Roger

Gaylen Ross – Francine

David Crawford – Dr Foster

David Early – Mr Berman

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.

Inertia’s Insight

The horror genre is the perfect platform for subtext and social commentary. Night of the Living Dead exemplifies this, with its profound condemnation of attitudes towards black people in the 1960’s. Romero made zombies more than just brain munchers; indeed, they actually force us to use their favourite food source.

As is strikingly obvious when it comes to the outrageous critical and commercial success of a film, a sequel cried out. Night left a lot more to explore, even if only to show us another set of survivors enduring the same kind of hell. Romero made us wait a whole ten years before the sequel arrived. When it did, it smashed box office records and sent critics and fanboys hurtling into a frenzy. And whilst I’ll admit that its subtext is genius and whilst I’ll view the film in the context of its era… I just can’t get behind it.

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Night left us with the belief that the dead had been dealt with, contained to piles of burning effigies, the shotgun carrying vigilante’s walking with pride on a job well done. Dawn opens with pandemonium inside a Philadelphia television station, as experts debate the religious implications and the rest run around like a blue-arsed fly (as my Nan would say). The commentary on possible causes and a suitable explanation/solution is juxtaposed with the panic of the professionals. Meanwhile, an elite SWAT team arrive at an apartment building to flush out the dead, dispatching with them in gory detail.

Straight away, you can see why Savini regrets his practical effects on this film. His work on Night is legendary for its Vietnam influences, Savini himself a photographer that had been immersed in that hell. Here, though we’ve got plenty of entrails and claret, their physical appearance – aside from the infamous shamble and droning hunger – is lacking. The transition to colour clearly has an impact on their impact.

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Fleeing the madness by stealing the best form of transport you can in a zombie apocalypse, Stephen, Francine, Roger and Peter take off in the WGON network’s helicopter, scouring the landscape for safety. Standing out like a beacon is the shopping mall, housing everything they need – security, safety, food and ammo. The only problem with a beacon is how many people are attracted to it…

This is where Dawn exceeds as a post-apocalyptic film. Romero allows the characters time to enjoy their moments of safety. Albeit brief, we’re still able to watch them indulge as we undoubtedly would in that situation: looting the shops, dressing in expensive clothes, playing sports across an empty prom, no longer inhibited by the rules of the society. It’s heartwarming to see them enjoy this time after all they’ve been through, though Romero balances it perfectly with the untimely ending of one of the characters and the eventual downfall of their haven.

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And this is where the film gets annoying. The motorcycle gang pose a genuine threat to their safety, and its inevitable that a fight over this goldmine would eventually ensue. But when they do get in it’s just a bit… boring. Its ineffective and lacking in action or tension, and that’s the case even if you look at the film in the context of how and when it was made. Sure, there are some good stunts and zombie kills that would make a full cinema cheer, but it just goes on a bit too long.

For the study of human behaviour, this film is brilliant. The zombies flocking to the shopping mall because that’s the most notable and autonomic function they still possess; the downfall of society and how factions of people will separate in the fight for survival (as we have since seen over 100 episodes on The Walking Dead); and how we still cling to the trivial mementos of a life lost. But as an effective, thrilling zombie film… it’s a bit shit.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★

Trivia

  • Tom Savini chose the grey colour for the zombies’ skin due to Night of the Living Dead being filmed in black and white. He later regretted it as the skin tone appeared to be green and blue
  • The film was shot at the Monroeville Mall from 10pm to 6am. The mall didn’t open until 9am but Muzak came on at 6am and no-one knew how to turn it off
  • The is the most profitable film in the Dead series

Quotes

DR FOSTER: Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!


Tomorrow: Night #25 – The Void (2016)

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31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #23 – V/H/S/2 (2013)

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Director: Various

Writer(s): Various

Studio/Distributor: Magnet Releasing/Bloody Disgusting

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: $795,661

Release Date: 2 August, 1985

IMDb Rating: 6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

UK Blu Ray release? No, just DVD

Cast

Lawrence Michael Levine – Larry

Kelsy Abbott – Ayesha

Adam Wingard – Herman

Hannah Hughes – Clarissa

Jay Saunders – Biker

Oka Antara – Malik

Samantha Gracie – Jen

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find a collection of VHS tapes. Viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realise there may be dark motives behind the students disappearance.

Inertia’s Insight

The sequel to the surprise found footage hit V/H/S made its way to us pretty quickly. Following the trend of sequels past by being thrown in to production to make some coin, V/H/S/2 still manages to throw up some surprising entries that put it on a par with the first film. The main issue with V/H/S follows through here though. There’s an element these films are missing that the shorts never quite encapsulate. It always feels like we’re on the verge of something great – then the credits roll.

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The wrap around entry sees two private investigators break in to a college kid’s house at the request of his Mother, who hasn’t heard from him in some time. Here they find a collection of VHS tapes. As Ayesha watches them, she descends further into madness.

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Unlike Tape 56 from the first film, there’s little to entertain you until the closing moments, but when it does happen, it’s bat-shit crazy. Not only is there a jawless man somewhere in the house, his tongue lolling like the chime on a clock, there’s also the small matter of Ayesha turning in to some fucked up spider-crawling zombie whose nails on the floorboard make for a terrifying sound.

Phase 1 Clinical Trials

Herman is gifted a bionic eye from a corporation testing its effectiveness. It allows him to see – the only problem is the company are recording everything, and they eye enables him to see ghosts…

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It’s a clever use of found footage, the perspective of our character literally being someone’s eye. Adam Wingard is expertly cast (by himself), a man with a nice house that a handful of ghosts fancy inhabiting. There are a few good jump scares and a particularly messed up sequence when Clarissa and her fucked up Uncle stop by for a visit. It’s only let down by the ghosts themselves who look like mere caricatures, painted like the ghouls in Dawn of the Dead with no effect.

A Ride in the Park

A nice little zombie entry, told from the perspective of a GoPro camera (which seems to play a focal point in most of the other short films). A man sets out for a bike ride through the woods, only to encounter an injured woman that changes his life forever.

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It’s a unique take on the zombie genre. There’s not much new here, the make-up even going so far as to almost accentuate the fact that this is a movie – the exaggerated contact lenses, gargled noises and emphasis on a string of guts being dined on like your local butcher’s best Venison sausages. What is interesting is the perspective. Without seeing it happen, the biker is turned from living to the living dead. He even samples his own flesh much to his disgust, which goes some way to answering how a zombie’s hankering for braiiiiins doesn’t necessarily translate to their own.

There’s also an interesting ending, one that isn’t usually seen in standard zombie lore, which puts this impressive short way ahead of most 90 minute zombie films out there.

Safe Haven

A news crew successfully gains entry to a mysterious Indonesian cult, hoping to understand their reclusive actions. It turns out that the cult’s leader, ‘Father’, has timed their arrival with that of a horned demon who bears a strong connection with the news crew…

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This is a pretty fucked up entry. Gory, frightening and leaving you with a lingering taste in your mouth, Safe Haven finds The Raid director Gareth Huw Evans exploring new territory with huge success.

The cult is the Indonesian People’s Temple, Father their Jim Jones. Some of the imagery used in this short raises the hairs, from the men in white committing mass suicide to the haunting classroom where the Kool Aid has been sunk, it manages to explore all aspects of cult behaviour in such a short time. Though the ending is a bit comic, there’s no doubt this leaves a lasting impression.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction

Just like Ronseal, this short does exactly what it says on the tin. Home alone, a group of kids face a nightmare when elongated greys pop in for a cuddle.

Also using a GoPro, we get a few interesting angles from this found footage entry, and in the beginning there are some good jumps. You don’t really notice the presence of the greys in the first half, with blink and you’ll miss it cameos doing just enough to embed their image in our minds.

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And that’s exactly where it goes wrong. Whether intentional or down to budget restraints, the aliens are just too… alien. It sounds daft, but their image ruins any impact their menace intended. As soon as we see them, it kind of loses its effect and just becomes a messy, frustrating found footage where you just want them to take the kids and piss off.

The success of V/H/S/2 would influence another sequel that, sadly, spelled the demise of this series that showed true potential, giving directors like Adam Wingard and Eduardo Sánchez some much needed spotlight.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★

Trivia

  • Originally titled “S-VHS”
  • When Larry and Ayesha break into Kyle’s dorm, as Larry is searching, Ayesha pushes play on Kyle’s laptop. We then briefly see fottage from Tape 56/Frame Narrative from the first film

Quotes

HERMAN: So you guys are gonna sit around and watch me take shits?

DEMON: Papa?


Tomorrow: Night #24 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #22 – Fright Night (1985)

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Director: Tom Holland

Writer(s): Tom Holland

Studio/Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Budget: $9m

Box Office: $24.9m

Release Date: 2 August, 1985

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Chris Sarandon – Jerry Dandrige

William Ragsdale – Charley Brewster

Amanda Bearse – Amy Peterson

Roddy McDowall – Peter Vincent

Stephen Geoffreys – Evil Ed

Jonathan Shark – Billy Cole

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

When a teenager learns that his next door neighbour is a vampire, no-one will believe him.

Inertia’s Insight

Welcome… to Fright Night!

A welcome throwback to the classic Universal horror pictures of the 40’s and 50’s, Fright Night perfectly captures the legend of the familiar vampire whilst catapulting its relevance to the neon glamour of the 80’s.

Charley Brewster, typical horny teen with a passion for the late night Peter Vincent programme Fright Night, believes that his new next door neighbour is a vampire. Trouble is, no-one believes him. No-one except the neighbour himself, Jerry Dandrige, who sets out to ensure that his secret never gets out.

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It’s blindingly obvious that Jerry is a vampire. There’s no mystery for the audience, instead we’re given the tell-tale signs of his mythical title. Creepy detailed coffin with fresh soil? Check. Creepy long fingers? Check. Only see him at night? Check. Two big pointy teeth about to sink into a beautiful woman’s neck? Check check.

Holland balances the sexual attraction and chemistry of the mythical vampire with its hideous true colours. Jerry Danridge is a fine looking man, using his physical presence to charm his way into Charley’s house via his gullible mother, and even seduce his girlfriend. Yet when exposed to those pesky crosses, Dandrige turns, his hideously disfigured face showing his true colours. It’s true 80’s OTT prosthetics but it’s effective, conjuring up some genuine visual scares.

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Brewster’s attempt to get anyone to believe him leads him to cross paths with his idol Peter Vincent. Director Tom Holland once said that the character of Peter Vincent is the heart of the movie, and he’s right. An icon from an era that time is forgetting, allotted a late night gig with dwindling viewing figures, Peter Vincent is a man on the edge and with the firm belief that his time is up. Desperate for the money, he agrees to help Evil Ed and Amy convince Charley that there are no such things as vampires, leading him directly in to the path of Jerry’s wrath.

Vincent’s heroism in the face of all he believes is what grounds the film, also allowing for some suitably British stiff-upper-lip heroism that ultimately saves Charley and his family. He also has one of the best lines in the film (bar Evil Ed’s excited ‘You’re so COOL, Brewster!’), nailing 80’s audiences’ blood thirst during the slasher heyday and subsequently realising the generation gap between him and Charley: “Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. Apparently all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” Oh but Peter – we do.

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This where Fright Night finds itself apart from other 80’s entries. It fashions a love for classic horror cinema with the blood thirst of the modern generation, leaving us with a tale as old as time but told in a completely new way. The visuals are incredible. The prosthetics on Dandrige are one thing, but when the wolf gets it and begins its transmogrification, there’s an obvious nod to an American Werewolf in London that’s impossible to overlook. And then there’s Billy Cole’s unfortunate end, with a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel to his demise. These moments exemplify the leaps made in 80’s cinema with prosthetics and practical effects, something that current films are crying out for.

Fright Night is one of those perfect 80’s movies – quotable, re-watchable and full of enough fear and frolic to keep you coming back for more.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • It was Chris Sarandon’s idea to have Jerry eating apples throughout the film. While researching vampire lore, Sarandon looked at information on bats and concluded that Jerry had a lot of fruit bat in his DNA
  • Peter Vincent was based upon and originally written for Vincent Price – named after him and other legendary horror actor Peter Cushing
  • Charlie Sheen auditioned for the role of Charlie Brewster

Quotes

EVIL ED: Oh you’re so COOL, Brewster!


Tomorrow: Night #23 – V/H/S/2 (2013)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #21 – Sinister (2012)

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer(s): C. Robert Cargill & Scott Derrickson

Studio/Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Momentum Pictures

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $77.7m

Release Date: 5 October, 2012

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Ethan Hawke – Ellison Oswalt

Juliet Rylance – Tracy

Fred Dalton Thompson – Sheriff

James Ransone – Deputy

Michael Hall D’Addario – Trevor

Nicholas King – Bughuul

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Washed up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt finds a box of super 8 home movies that suggest the murder he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose work dates back to the 1960s.

Inertia’s Insight

When the idea for your screenplay is based on your own nightmare, you’re already half way towards a decent horror film. The concept of creating a dreamlike horror led to Sinister, another low budget Blumhouse production that drew A-list talent in Ethan Hawke, in turn drawing audiences to the box office.

From the first frame this film establishes its tone. The long, agonising and horrific opening sequence, shot with super 8 film, is difficult to watch – and these are only the opening moments. The hideous music – if you can call it that – with the scratchy 8mm and soundless, agonising slow death of four people tied to a tree is uneasy to watch. Brutal, mysterious and intriguing from the off.

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True crime writer with the name to match his job, Ellison Oswalt relocates his family to investigate the murder of a family that he thinks will give him his next big story. The local police aren’t happy to have him here and his kids don’t want to be either, but Ellison continues to pursue the truth despite the grim reality he unearths with every new super 8 film he finds.

These super 8 films are what sets this film apart from your standard haunted house/demon after your kids story. They are so genuinely unsettling. The combination of handheld voyeuristic POV perspective, grainy 8mm film and jarring music allow these miniature snuff films to have such a unique effect. With each one they get worse, building to the lawnmower film in which Ethan Hawke’s genuine reaction says everything that we feel about these snuff films.

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But there are also some scary moments outside of these little films. Their son who suffers with night terrors seems to do a pretty good impression of Regan’s spider walk when he emerges from a box, and the scene with the slo-mo ghost kids is brilliant. It provides a fresh new angle on how ghosts move about a house, how they haunt and cause the floorboards to creak. Like a fucked up version of Marco Polo, it sees Ellison driven deeper into the madness that Bughuul brings to the families of his latest victim.

Derrickson perfectly balances the horror with the tension of a damn good thriller. The investigation into the murders builds steadily, with twists and turns unearthing the mystery behind the killings. It works just like a procedural, with the pursuit of the truth driving Ellison further from his family and fracturing their reality. Ethan Hawke is the standout here, not reducing his talents for the genre but rather utilising them to maximum effect.

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The twist is quite fucked up, following the dour tone that the film established from the outset (and revealed via the super 8 films). The ending is so downbeat. Derrickson shoots it with minimal light and long scenes with hardly any cuts. There’s no big reveal or great emphasis on the scene, making the events even harder to watch. Derrickson also plays down the focus on Bughuul (or Mr. Boogie as he’s referred to), instead focussing on him mainly in the super 8 films and drawings on the wall. It’s the right move, allowing the mere reference of him to instill more fear than any sighting of him could. Which is also probably a good job because he looks a bit like Seven from Slipknot…

A truly effective and indeed sinister horror film.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Writer C. Robert Cargill got the idea for the script from a nightmare he had after watching The Ring
  • There is very little blood, almost no cursing and no sex, but the film still gained an R-rating
  • The super 8 films were actually filmed using super 8 cameras
  • Ethan Hawke had never seen the super 8 films prior to filming. His initial reactions made it in to the final film

Quotes

ASHLEY: Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll make you famous again.


Tomorrow: Night #22 – Fright Night (1985)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #20 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

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Director: André Øvredal

Writer(s): Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing

Studio/Distributor: IFC Midnight

Budget: $1 – 2m

Box Office: $1,984,503

Release Date: 21 December, 2016

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Brian Cox – Tommy

Emile Hirsch – Austin

Ophelia Lovibond – Emma

Michael McElhatton – Sheriff Burke

Olwen Catherine Kelly – Jane Doe

Jane Perry – Lieutenant Wade

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harbouring dark secrets.

Inertia’s Insight

IFC Midnight, the highbrow equivalent of Blumhouse, has produced some incredible horror films over the last few years. The IFC mark on a film impresses like the name of a fine wine or jewelers – you know for a fact in you’re in for a treat. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is exactly that – a treat, a feast for the eyes and a throwback to more traditional horror. And stepping in to the world of horror for the first time, André Øvredal slots himself nicely in a list of leading horror directors.

Father and son coroner duo Tommy and Austin are about to receive a body into their morgue that will change their current in-depth understanding of death forever. Opening on an idyllic suburban home shot from the outside as if nothing is wrong, like the perfect white paint couldn’t possibly betray any hint of corruption, the images suddenly juxtapose to give us a violent crime scene, the aftermath of a horrific night. In the basement they find a young woman, naked, almost perfectly preserved, half-buried in the Earth. She’s transported to the coroners, where a night of unspeakable terror will ensue…

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There’s another juxtaposition when we’re introduced to Tommy and Austin. With a hideously disfigured corpse lying on their table, they both jam to a catchy rock tune as they go through their process. They have a familiarity with death and are comfortable with it, a trait that not all of us possess.

When the body of Jane Doe arrives, Austin decides to ditch his girlfriend in favour of helping his Dad, recently widowed and a main focal point for Austin. Their relationship is solid, and Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch make a great pairing.

With the title self-explanatory, we dive in to the autopsy. Øvredal pays close attention to this medical process; the autopsy is slow and detailed, the characters throwing out medical jargon, explanations and multiple mysteries, expecting us to catch up. For all the intrusion of her body, what makes it most uncomfortable is her nudity and the condition her body is in – apart from her cold, glass eyes that stare out in pain for most of the autopsy, she doesn’t look dead. It’s voyeuristic, and is testament to Øvredal’s insistence that Jane Doe is played by a real person. Credit too has to go to Olwen Catherine Kelly, who has the hardest job in this film, somehow making a corpse one of the best bits of acting I’ve seen in a long time.

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We see her face a lot from the birds eye perspective and you keep waiting for something to happen – a twitch or a blink, a lip quiver or shudder. Yet nothing does happen, her menace lying in her unchanging face. As the autopsy continues and the mysteries deepen, we’re drawn in to the intriguing and mysterious world of Jane Doe. Is she the victim of a ritualistic cult slaying? Or is she the perpetrator, isolated inside this preserved body?

As well as creating a sense of claustrophobia in the windowless room, Øvredal uses music and sound to maximum effect. The juxtaposition of the rock music is one thing, but when the supernatural begins to happen the chorus builds to an uncomfortable level, the gospel-sounding music emphasising the ritualistic nature of her death. There’s also an impeccable use of sound with the ankle bell. Introduced as an old fashioned method of Tommy’s to ensure the corpse is definitely just that, the mere sound of it later becomes a gut wrenching and goosebump-inducing scene that conjures horrific images that you’ve created yourself.

Øvredal shows himself as a master of the genre with the way in which he plays his cards close to his chest. Tight shots, close-ups and distorted images through cracks in the door keep from revealing everything to us. There’s just enough given for us to make the rest ourselves, always leaving us wanting more. He also knows when enough is enough, giving us the shotgun face guy in all his glory but only for a few flickering seconds, sending shivers up your spine.

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The mystery surrounding Jane Doe and the hell she brings is never quite explained. The biggest reveal (no spoilers) is actually quite hard to take, and you really feel for. But this mystery surrounding her is what makes the film so clever. There are answers, but not enough to round the film out, but that’s okay; what we do learn of her is shocking, but to fully comprehend it would perhaps be too much. The ending of the film is downbeat and plays out like the opening scene, with the idyllic picture outside making way for a hellish nightmare inside.

Though there’s the potential for a sequel, it feels like it ended the way it should. Let’s just hope that Øvredal has more horror up his sleeve.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Norwegian director André Øvredal was inspired to do a horror movie after attending a screening of The Conjuring
  • Stephen King said the film rivaled Alien and early Cronenberg
  • Martin Sheen was originally cast as Tommy, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts

Quotes

TOMMY: This amount of lung damage, though, I’d expect the body to be covered in third degree burns. It’s like finding a bullet in a brain, but with no gunshot wound.


Tomorrow: Night #21 – Sinister (2012)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #19 – Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

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Director: Tod Williams

Writer(s): Christopher B. Landon, Tom Pabst & Michael R. Perry

Studio/Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $177.5m

Release Date: 22 October, 2010

IMDb Rating: 5.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Brian Boland – Daniel Rey

Molly Ephraim – Ali Rey

Katie Featherston – Katie

Seth Ginsberg – Brad

Sprague Grayden – Kristi Rey

Micah Sloat – Micah

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

After experiencing what they think are a series of ‘break-ins’, a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realise that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.

Inertia’s Insight

The prequel/sequel to 2007’s license to print money aka Paranormal Activity was greenlit almost instantly, the dollar signs rolling in the eyes of Paramount executives eager to cash in on the success of such a simple yet effective premise: the haunted house from the first-person perspective.

The end of Paranormal Activity (varying slightly depending on which version you saw) found Katie having finally succumbed to the demon’s advances. Micah’s fate is pretty much sealed, and Katie’s next moves unknown. So where do you take the story from here? Back in time of course.

The camera is switched on and the ‘reason for filming’, a necessity with found footage horror films, is quickly established. There’s a new baby in the house, so Dad attempts to document the child’s life. We’re introduced to the family and it’s a surprise to see Katie looking well and without the air of possession, the text quickly establishing that the events are taking place before the first film.

We recognise the signs of a haunting straight away, but it takes the family some time to come to terms with it. Thinking its a burglary, the Rey family install CCTV cameras in their house, gifting us several new angles to watch, more angles that get us questioning every movement in the frame, our eyes darting across the screen. It’s a clever move, keeping the perspective fresh whilst maintaining it as POV. It’s also quite voyeuristic, this intensive look into the family’s life. The burglary begins to hint at a more deeper meaning to their haunting, as only a possession belonging to Kristi and Katie’s grandmother has been stolen.

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The film then fast forwards a year or so, as baby Hunter is now mobile and life seems pretty normal for the Rey family. Enter stage left the demon to fuck things up. Paranormal Activity 2 gives us a bigger household and thus a broader perspective on the events in the house; the first film gave us Katie and Micah’s polarising views, but here we range from the skeptic to the firm believer, with Kristi sitting firmly on the fence. Despite the maid’s Spanish incantations and wafts of incense, Kristi fails to heed the signs until it’s too late.

The sensitivity of Hunter and the family dog open us up to more on-screen happenings. The camera in Hunter’s room is particularly well used, as we find ourselves scanning the frame for any mere hint of a shadow or some form.

There are also nice nods to the first film, such as the picture of Katie as a child appearing intact and not at all the charred picture it became when discovered in her loft. You never knew the potential for a sequel was there in Paranormal Activity, but there are moments here that seem to provide answers to questions we never knew we had.

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With a bigger budget and the very fact that a sequel must surpass its predecessor, there are more stand out moments in this film. The first person perspective in a horror film provides the best opportunity for scares – with no cuts, the camera becomes our eyes and we’re embedded in the scene, unable to look away. There’s also more of an emphasis on the shadow that the demon casts, and standout moments like Ali asleep on the sofa or Kristi being pulled from Hunters bedroom

Towards the end, the prequel brings itself closer to the start of the events in Paranormal Activity. Indeed, the opening scene from the first film is embedded into the final act to show how the two match up, explaining the burnt photo of Katie and the reason for her haunting. It’s a pretty messed up and desperate move by the Rey family, one that comes to bite them on the ass as the two films come full circle in a tense and genuinely creepy finale.

The financial success of both films, coupled with the filmmakers’ ability to turn an indie idea into a global franchise paved the way for a slew of other sequels that eventually ended six films later, doing the unthinkable: showing the demon. It’s where Ghost Dimension falls foul of its audience, but thankfully with Paranormal Activity 2, we’re gifted a film that, though it feels a bit the same, still provides scares through mere hint and suggestion.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★

Trivia

  • Upon release, the film broke the record for the biggest midnight gross of an R-rated movie with $6.3m, as well as the biggest opening for a horror movie of all time
  • The trailer for Paranormal Activity 2 featured a lot of footage that wasn’t in the final film, which the filmmakers stated was required in order to protect the storyline
  • The trailer for the film was banned in some cinemas as it was scaring people during PG-13 films

Quotes

ALI: I don’t know if the house is haunted, but I hope it is.


Tomorrow: Night #20 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #18 – Switchblade Romance (2003)

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Director: Alexandre Aja

Writer(s): Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur

Studio/Distributor: EuropaCorp

Budget: $2.5m

Box Office: $6.8m

Release Date: 18 June, 2003

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Cecile De France – Marie

Maiwenn – Alexia

Philippe Nahon – Le tueur

Franck Khalfoun – Jimmy

Andrei Finti – Pere Alex

Oana Pellea – Mere Alex

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Best friends Marie and Alexia decide to spend a quiet weekend at Alexia’s parents’ secluded farmhouse. But on the night of their arrival, the girls’ idyllic getaway turns into an endless night of horror.

Inertia’s Insight

New French Extremity, the phrase coined to describe the early noughties wave of body horror films that would even make Cronenberg wince, was originally intended to be a derogatory term to denounce the films in the same light as torture porn. Despite its intention, instead the phrase has taken on a meaning more like La Nouvelle Vague, used to reference notable filmmakers that have gone on to make an indelible mark on the genre in France and the US.

One of those filmmakers is Alexandre Aja. Then just 25 years old, Aja and lifelong friend Gregory Levasseur brought us Haute Tension (High Tension or Switchblade Romance as it is known in the UK), a psychological-horror-thriller-love-story that exemplified the nature of New French Extremity with extreme gore and violence, whilst maintaining a heart that runs through the core of the film, fueling its events.

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Marie and her friend Alexia decide to spend a weekend in the country at Alexia’s parents farmhouse. Unbeknownst to them, a fucked up delivery driver with a sadistic eye for killing has decided to pay the farm a little visit…

One of the most intense attributes this film has is its twist ending. Unlike other films that try to place red herrings to throw the scent off or make their clues blindingly obvious, the first time you watch Switchblade Romance you genuinely don’t realise you’ve been fooled until it’s too late. Watching for a second time, you start to pick up on the subtle clues that are there from the start. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Sixth Sense here; the secret is safe, but it has to be acknowledged for its brilliance.

The introduction to the girls hints at a deeper connection, and it soon becomes clear that Marie is in love with Alexia – the way they talk about relationships, the voyeuristic way she watches Marie in the shower, the way she masturbates to ‘Just Another Girl’. It’s not known whether the love is requited, but what is obvious is that Alexia is blissfully unaware. It creates a tension but also gives Marie a reason to survive, and to save Alexia.

The introduction to the driver, meanwhile, is classic New French Extremity – visual, brutal, graphic, depraved. It establishes the tone that will see us wince and squint for the rest of the film. There’s no ‘less is more’ here; it achieves an odd balance of tension, heart and gore. After the initial introductions and after the driver sends their world brutally spiraling out of control, a good chunk of the film is just pure suspense. The farmhouse scene, the gas station, the pursuit along the road – Aja carefully balances the physical horror with the mental, ensuring that when we do see it, it’s brutal, but when we’re away from it the film remains just as tense.

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The pace builds nicely to a gripping finale with a twist that you don’t see coming, gifting a huge payoff to a well crafted film. A known nostalgic throwback to the grindhouse and exploitation films of the 70’s, there’s an homage to Maniac and a nice nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the end, but Switchblade Romance easily establishes itself in the annals of horror history with a gritty, gory film with a big heart – that just happens to get ripped out.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • According to director Alexandre Aja, four different locations were used for Alexia’s house, but the set dressing and editing make it appear as one location
  • The scene where Marie hides from the killer in the gas station restroom is an homage to a similar scene in Maniac
  • The film had some issues with plagiarism over similarities with the novel Intensity by Dean Koontz

Quotes

MARIE: I won’t let anyone else come between us anymore.


Tomorrow: Night #19 – Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)