SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Produced by: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Screenplay by: William Gray, Diana Maddox
Story by: Russell Hunter
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood,
Cinematography: John Coquillon
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
If, teenagers being stalked and slashed by a crazed non-speaking maniac are your preference, then you probably would not enjoy the classic ghost story, The Changeling (1980). However, if you are rivetted and chilled by expertly crafted cinematic horror, built on a compelling screenplay, excellent performances and fine cinematography, then this is a film for you.
Not to be confused with the kidnapping thriller, Changeling (2008). The Changeling (1980) feels like one of those older films which created the mould for many other contemporary ghost narratives. A few examples include: The Woman in Black (2012), Candyman (1992), the Ring series and more recently, Hereditary(2018). Such films often feature genre tropes like:
Grieving or vulnerable lead protagonist(s).
A vengeful ghost or spirits who were murdered or done wrong when alive.
A creepy house or location which holds a dark secret and becomes a character in it’s own right.
A detective plot structure which finds said protagonist attempting to solve the mystery of the ghost’s past.
Lots of creepy supernatural comings and goings that ultimately lead to the ghost’s redemption or a successfully chilling retribution.
Of course, the model for such conventions lay in the pages of classic literary ghost stories, however, having not seen The Changeling (1980) for over thirty-years, I felt like I was watching a masterpiece of the supernatural film genre. It doesn’t hurt having Oscar winning actor, George C. Scott, subtly playing the lead as grieving John Russell, a musical professor trying to come to terms with the death of his wife and child. Moreover, the mature approach to pacing and direction by Peter Medak slowly builds the terror to a real crescendo. The horror within the plot, involving a murdered child, is ably imbued by the compelling score, elegant editing and John Coquillon’s exquisite camera movement and lighting composition. Ultimately, I enjoy a good slasher film, but give me a classy supernatural tale such as The Changeling (1980) any night of the week.
Screenplay by: Mike Flanagan – Based on Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay etc.
Music: The Newton Brothers
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I read Stephen King’s classic novel The Shining when I was eleven. I didn’t quite understand the complexities of the supernatural elements, but I understood the emotion of a mother and child trapped within a traumatic family scenario. When I watched the film a year later in 1982, on VHS video, I recall not quite grasping the complex and creeping genius of Kubrick’s adaptation. I wanted them to get to the bit where the guy goes nuts with the axe!!
Flash forward many decades, and having seen The Shining (1980) more times than I can remember, I now feel that it’s one of the best horror films of all time. It is meticulously directed, edited and designed and feel like I understand it. Having said that, I still see something new in it every time I watch it. I guess what I’m trying to say is I grew up and grew older with King’s characters and Kubrick’s film, so a sequel has a lot to live up to.
While I haven’t read Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep, I was confident screenwriter and director, Mike Flanagan, was a good choice for the continuation of the story of Danny Torrance and his ‘Shining’ gift. Flanagan is a solid and unflashy genre filmmaker. He presents characters and narratives in a considered style, allowing the concepts to flourish and actors to shine. I would recommend you check out his previous work on The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Gerald’s Game (2017), Hush (2016) and the very under-rated,Before I Wake (2016).
Doctor Sleep (2019) is a film, typically for King, about good versus evil. It’s also about recovery, addiction, finding yourself, death, defeating one’s demons and appreciating your inner gifts. It opens by re-establishing the trauma young Danny Torrance suffered at the Overlook Hotel. Flanagan takes great joy re-enacting scenes, locations and characters from the Kubrick adaptation. These are striking and impressive at first. I must say though, the shadow of the original The Shining (1980), arguably impinges too much in the final act. Nonetheless, as a fanatic of the original film, Flanagan is clearly having a lot of fun re-introducing ghosts of the past.
Thematically the film opens very strongly. As Danny Torrance attempts recovery from alcoholism, Ewan McGregor delivers a compelling performance. His scenes as an orderly in a hospice present some really moving moments, as he finally finds a place to utilize his telepathic gifts positively. The action really kicks in when he is contacted via ‘Shining’ by a teenage girl, Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran). She is an incredible young talent and soon her gifts are putting her in danger. A nefarious troupe of energy vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), feed off the ‘shine’ of these children to sustain their existence.
Rebecca Ferguson and Zahn McClarnon as Rose the Hat and Crow Daddy represent formidable nemeses in the narrative. Their group, ‘The True Knot’, reminded me off the vampires from Near Dark (1987) and also the carnival monsters from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ferguson is especially alluring. She’s both sensual and attractive, but with a dark, wicked heart internally. I would have liked a bit more history of their vampiric troupe, but they were memorable villains and symbolic of the veracious nature of addiction.
Doctor Sleep (2019) is, above all else, another solid genre adaptation of King’s work. Indeed, Mike Flanagan has delivered a visually impressive and psychologically interesting film. Arguably, I felt, it was much stronger when concentrating on Danny’s movement toward recovery in the first half. Having said that this theme is played out in the inevitable face off with Rose the Hat at the end. The denouement, while generically necessary is still creepy and highly satisfying though.
As I said, the over-reliance on the images and scenes from the original The Shining (2019), while necessary, impact the sequel’s identity a tad. However, as a psychologically moving film it works very well. I suppose it could have been scarier in places, but Stephen King’s concepts retain power and really get under the skin in Flanagan’s capable hands. There is a powerful air of familiarity to the tale, but I love stories that delve into addiction and telepathic characters; especially in the horror genre. Ultimately, this is where Doctor Sleep (2019) shines. In fact, while it is a long film, it never drags and could have benefited from an episodic TV adaptation to explore the characters and fantastic concepts further.
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner etc.
Music by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
John Carpenter’sHalloween (1978) is a seminal horror film experience. It spawned an army of sequels and sidequels and reboots which darkened the cinemas, mostly failing to get anywhere near Carpenter’s low-budget masterpiece in terms of quality and scares. It also gave birth, along with Black Christmas (1974), to the slasher film genre. Of course Hitchcock’s classicPsycho (1960), could make claim to that too, but following the success of Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the bloodgates opened. What followed was a deluge of stabbing and slashing copycat killer movies from the late 1970s onwards.
Flash forward to 2018 and with Halloween (2018), we now have the ELEVENTH film in the franchise. Having read some decent reviews I sat down to watch it last night on, aptly enough, Halloween night. My expectations were pretty low, but I was encouraged by the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, plus David Gordon Green has proved himself a very solid filmmaker in the past. Movies like decent stoner comedy, Pineapple Express (2008), and dramas Joe (2013), and Stronger (2017), were very watchable. Least said about Your Highness(2011), the better.
The film opens with an excellent set-piece establishing Michael Myers, some forty years older, in a maximum security mental health institution. Two reporters have come for an interview for their latest true crime podcast. Safe to say Myers isn’t interested in communicating. The editing and imagery and music combine to create a very unsettling experience, so the film starts strongly. We then re-establish Myers’ narrative counterpart, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Now, you have to swallow the fact that this is a direct sequel to the original Carpenter classic. None of the other films happened; which essentially works, despite some wonky dialogue and exposition. Thankfully, with Lee Curtis on excellent form as the post-traumatised Strode, we have a flawed but compelling heroine to root for. Strode has been waiting for Myers and preparing with firepower, high security and wits in order to defeat him. Sub-plots involving Strode’s daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are developed, but kind of lose their way as the murderous Myers mayhem begins. Still, at least they tried to write some depth into the screenplay.
After a very strong start the film begins to unravel in the middle. The machinations of the plot to get Myers on the Halloween rampage felt random and illogical in places. An important event occurs off-screen and this impacted my commitment to the story. This isn’t really a criticism as such, because genre conventions and a high death rate need to be met. However, despite some well directed set-pieces, whenever Laurie Strode was off-screen the film lost some emotional power. Having said that, if it is deaths with knives, hammers, cars and crow-bars you want, this film contains that and more.
Overall, I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did. I think the work of Gordon Green and Curtis is especially good. The script however, suffered during a messy second act, although the final showdown was really well executed (sorry.) With $250 million made at the box office, it goes to show though that the Halloween franchise is alive and kicking and two further sequels are planned. It has some scary moments, some brilliant gore and the iconic music still haunts me to this day. Nonetheless, this reboot doesn’t hold a pumpkin flame to the original. Then again, not many horror films do.
Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder
Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage
Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
******* SPOILER FREE *******
If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror filmGoodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.
With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.
In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.
Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.
Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.
As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.
Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.
I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.
Mark: 6.5 out of 11
ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)
Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.
Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?
The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.
I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.