Film Review: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (dir by Michael Chaves)


The year is 1981 and Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, of course!) have just screwed up another exorcism.  Only Ed hears as Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) begs the demon that has possessed 8 year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard) to enter him instead.  Unfortunately, Ed also has a heart attack and passes out before he can tell Lorraine what has happened.

The next month, a hollow-eyed Arne is walking down a road.  He’s just murdered his sleazy landlord, stabbing the man 22 times.  It seems like an open-and-shut case, except for the fact that Arne claims that he was possessed by a demon and that it was the demon who actually committed the crime.  At first Arne’s lawyer is planning to go for an insanity plea but then Ed and Lorraine invite her to come have dinner with them and to see their favorite doll, Annabelle.  The film immediately cuts to Arne’s visibly shaken lawyer announcing to the court that her client pleads “not guilty by reason of demonic possession.”

It’s a funny scene and I was a little bit surprised to see it because, in the past, The Conjuring films have always been distinguished by how seriously they took themselves.  The first two films both unfolded in atmospheres of growing dread, following families that not only had to deal with societal evolution but also with angry spirits.  The first two Conjuring films worked not only as horror films but also as period pieces, as stories about changing times.  Though Ed and Lorraine were always the main investigators, the first two films devoted as much time to exploring the dynamics of the haunted families as it did to portraying the Warrens.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (or, as we’ll call it in the interest of space, The Conjuring 3) takes a different approach, which I imagine has much to do with Michael Chaves directing the film instead of James Wan.  This time, Arne and the possessed family all remain ciphers.  We never learn much about who they are or who they were before they met the Warrens.  We don’t know what Arne was like before he became possessed and, as such, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in him once he does end up with a demon inside of him. 

Instead, the film emphasizes Ed and Lorraine Warren and their work to uncover the occultist who was behind the original possession.  Ed worries about Lorraine as she has psychic visions and wanders around yet another dirty basement.  Lorraine worries that Ed is going to give himself another heart attack as he hobbles through the woods in search of an evil spirit.  Lorraine proves her powers to a skeptical detective.  Ed complains that he doesn’t want people treating his wife’s abilities like a carnival sideshow but he still allows himself a slight smile when she selects the correct murder weapon.  Of course, at one point, Suspicious Minds is heard on the radio and we briefly flashback to Patrick Wilson singing the song in The Conjuring 2.  Once again, the film argues that Ed and Lorraine’s romance, their endless love, makes them uniquely capable of battling the Devil.

The film has its moments, largely because Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are adorable as Ed and Lorraine.  At the same time, though, there’s a definite “greatest hits” feel to the third Conjuring film.  There’s little about the film that feels truly spontaneous or surprising and most of the scenes feel like reworkings of scenes that worked in the previous two films.  As good as Farmiga and Wilson are in their roles (and as much as I appreciate the idea of a Catholic super hero film franchise), Ed and Lorraine work best when they’re relating to and helping other characters.  The Conjuring 3 often solely focuses on them and the end result often feels more like an Insidious sequel than a Conjuring film.

The Conjuring 3 is enjoyable enough.  It gets the job done, while never reaching the emotional heights of the first two films.  It has enough jump scares to be a fun movie to watch on a rainy night but it’s not one that really sticks in your mind after it ends.

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The Blind Murderer Is Now A Hero In The Trailer For Don’t Breathe 2!


To be honest, I’m probably being a bit too glib when I say that the fearsome blind kidnapper and murderer at the center of the original Don’t Breathe is now a hero. Though it appears that he’s now the hero based on what we see in the trailer for Don’t Breathe 2, it could just be a case where he’s a bad guy battling other bad guys.

At least, I hope that’s the case because, seriously, we all remember the turkey baster!

I really liked the first Don’t Breathe. I have to admit that I was kind of hoping that it would be one of those great thrillers that would never get a sequel because the first one pretty much worked because Stephen Lang’s character was a unique and unexpected villain. My feeling was that subsequent appearances by the character would only serve to make him less menacing. Though it looks like the film’s well-produced and Stephen Lang kicks all sorts of ass, the trailer for Don’t Breathe 2 still feels more like a sequel to Gran Torino than a sequel to the original Don’t Breathe. Let’s hope I’m wrong on that!

Don’t Breathe 2 will be released on August 13th, at which point we’ll see what’s going on.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Blue Monkey (dir by William Fruet)


1987 Blue Monkey

Last night, as I sat down to watch the 1987 Canadian film, Blue Monkey, I found myself singing a song in my head:

How does it feel
When you treat me like you do
And you’ve laid your hands upon me
And told me who you are?

I thought I was mistaken
And I thought I heard your words
Tell me, how do I feel?
Tell me now, how do I feel?

Unfortunately, it turned out that the only thing Blue Monkey had in common with the classic New Order song, Blue Monday, was an enigmatic title.  Just as the song never really mentions anything about Monday, Blue Monkey does not feature a single monkey.  One minor character does mention having a dream about a monkey but, otherwise, there are no monkeys in the film.  Speaking as someone who believes that almost any film can be improved the presence of a monkey, I was disappointed.

(Seriously, Nomadland would have been a hundred times better if Frances McDormand had a pet monkey.)

What Blue Monkey does have is a lot of blue.  The characters wear blue shirts and some wear blue uniforms.  Another wears a blue hat.  The film takes place in a hospital where almost all of the walls are painted blue.  Even worse, the majority of the film’s scenes are saturated with blue lighting.  

Here’s just two screenshots:

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Seriously, some scenes were so blue that I was reminded of John Huston’s decision to suffuse Reflections in a Golden Eye with the color gold.  Personally, I think Huston made a mistake when he did that with Reflections but I can still understand the reasoning behind the decision and I can see what Huston was attempting to accomplish.  The blue in Blue Monkey feels like a distraction, as if someone realized, on the day before shooting, that the title didn’t make any damn sense.  “We’ll just make the whole movie blue!”

The problem, of course, is that the film goes so overboard with the blue lighting that it actually becomes difficult to look at the screen for more than a few minutes.  I had to keep looking away, specifically because all of those blue flashing lights were starting to make me nauseous and were on the verge of giving me a migraine.  At times, the image is so saturated in blue that you literally can’t make out what’s happening in the scene.  Of course, once you do figure out what’s happening, you realize that it doesn’t matter.

Blue Monkey takes place in a hospital.  A handyman has been having convulsions after pricking his finger on a plant that came from a mysterious island.  Perhaps that’s because a mutant larvae is now using his body for a host.  The larvae eventually develops into a giant grasshopper — NOT A MONKEY! — who stalks around the hospital and kills a few people.  The Canadian government is threatening to blow up the hospital unless something is done about the blue grasshopper.

It’s a Canadian exploitation film but Michael Ironside isn’t in it so it somehow feels incomplete.  That said, John Vernon plays a greedy hospital administrator and it’s fun to watch him get irritated with everyone.  A very young Sarah Polley has an early role as an annoying child.  There’s actually several children in this film and you’ll want to throw something at the screen whenever they show up, that’s just the type of film this is.  (Some of my fellow movie-watching friends were actually upset that the children survived that film.  I wouldn’t go that far but I still found myself hoping John Vernon would tell them all to shut up and let the adults handle things.)  Susan Anspach plays a doctor, showing that anyone can go from Five Easy Pieces to Canadian exploitation.  The film’s nominal star is Steve Railsback, playing a cop who comes to the hospital to check on his wounded partner and who ends up on grasshopper duty.  Steve Railsback has apparently said that he’s embarrassed to have appeared in this film.  Consider some of the other films that Steve Railsback has appeared in and then reread that sentence.  

In the end, Blue Monkey doesn’t add up too much.  There’s no Michael Ironside.  There’s no monkeys.  There’s just a lot of blue.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Amityville Murders (dir by Daniel Farrands)


Ronald DeFeo, Jr. may not be a household name but he’s someone who was indirectly responsible for a lot of cinematic schlock.

Of course, that’s the least of DeFeo’s crimes. When the 69 year-old DeFeo passed away in March, he was serving a life sentence in the state of New York. That’s because, back in 1974, the 23 year-old DeFeo grabbed a rifle and killed his entire family while they slept. When he was brought to trial, DeFeo claimed that he heard Satanic voices that urged him to kill his parents and his siblings. His lawyers tried for an insanity defense, though the prosecution successfully argued that DeFeo was lying about the voices and that he was in full control of his actions on the night that he killed his family. After being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, DeFeo sometimes claimed that he had been possessed by the devil and sometimes said that he committed the murders in self-defense and then other times, he said that he did it because he was hoping to inherit his father’s money. Out of all the excuses that he gave for his brutal crimes, DeFeo’s claims of being demon-possessed were the claims that everyone remembered.

Years later, the DeFeo house — which sat in Amityville, New York — was purchased the George and Kathy Lutz. The Lutzes made a small fortune by claiming that the house was haunted and that they had been forced to leave their new home by demonic spirits. (Their claims were apparently supported by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren of Conjuring fame.) The Lutzes told their story to Jay Anson, who wrote a book called The Amityville Horror. That book was later turned into a movie and the success of that movie led to a series of sequels and spin-offs. At last count, there’s been at least ten books written about the Amityville case and there have been 30 films that, in one way or another, claim to be connected to the Amityville haunting. Few of those films share much, other than a haunting and the word “Amityville” in the title. There’s not a great deal of continuity to be found in the Amityville films.

One of the latest of the Amityville films, 2018’s The Amityville Murders, deals with the actual murders that supposedly started off the whole cycle of possession and violence. (1982’s Amityville II: The Possession also dealt with the murders, albeit with Ronald DeFeo renamed Sonny Montelli. Two of the stars of that film — Burt Young and Diane Franklin — appear in The Amityville Murders.) John Robinson plays the bearded and withdrawn Ronald DeFeo, Jr. Chelsea Ricketts plays his concerned sister. Paul Ben-Victor plays their abusive father. The film covers the general facts of the DeFeo murders while trying to have it both ways as to whether or not Ronald was in control of his actions. Ronald DeFeo is portrayed as being genuinely unbalanced but, at the same time, potentially demon-possessed as well. The talented John Robinson does a good job of playing Ronald and there’s a few effective shots of his looking unbalanced but, for the most part, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in a dozen other Amityville-influenced horror films. As well, since you know from the start that Ronald is going to end up murdering his family, there’s really not any suspense to be found in the film. Instead, the entire movie is just about waiting for Ronald to pick up that rifle and start shooting people, including two children. It’s more than a bit icky, to be honest.

Whenever it comes to an Amityville prequel, the main question is always just how stereotypically the DeFeos are going to be portrayed. It only takes five minutes for DeFeo, Sr. to admonish Ronald with, “Oh! Watch how you talk to your mother!” Every cliché about Italian-American family life is present in The Amityville Murders, from the father hulking around in his undershirt to the mother decorating the house with religious iconography to the superstitious grandmother. Watching the film, I found myself imagining Tony Soprano watching a cheap Amityville film and exclaiming, “Oh! The mouth on this fucking kid over here, like he’s possessed by the devil or something!” The Amityville Murders hints that the DeFeos themselves may have had mafia connections. Indeed, before he decided to blame demonic possession for his crimes, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. claimed that his family had been taken out by hitmen from New York.

This film was directed by Daniel Farrands, who also directed The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. The Amityville Murders is neither as well put-together as the Sharon Tate film nor as offensive as the Nicole Simpson film. It’s somewhere in between, just another link in the endless chain of Amityville films. I will say that I personally think Farrands is a talented director and I’d like to see what he could do with a budget and a decent script. The Amityville Murders has its share of impressive shots, even if the end result isn’t exactly the last word in Amityville horror.

The Warrens return in the trailer for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It


Warner Bros. has us prepped for the summer with another installment of The Conjuring! Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) takes over the directing duties from James Wan (who serves as a Producer here). This time around, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are investigating a case that puts them and an entire town in the spotlight. When a young man is arrested for a murder based on demonic possession, the Warrens are called in to find the truth. We’ll find out for sure when the film releases both in Cinemas and on HBO Max on June 4th.

Here’s The Trailer For The Resort


“And the most shocking thing of all is how their stay in paradise will end!”

That line was used at the end of the introduction for the first season of Paradise Hotel. Paradise Hotel, of course, was the greatest reality show ever made. Or at least, the first season was. (The second and especially the third seasons were a bit less interesting.) Basically, a bunch of good-looking, extremely shallow people moved into a huge hotel on a beautiful island and they were told that they would have to hook up with someone every week. If they didn’t and ended the week single, they would be kicked out of paradise. The people who managed to survive the entire season without getting kicked out of paradise would then have the opportunity to win the big prize. The funny thing was that no one knew what the big prize was. Naturally, this led to a lot of speculation until it was ultimately revealed that they were competing for a cash prize that was significantly lower than the prizes offered on Big Brother and Survivor. Again, it was a totally shallow show but it was also a lot of fun. Nearly everyone was easy on the eyes and really, that was the main reason we were watching.

I found myself thinking about Paradise Hotel as I watched the trailer for The Resort, not because the characters are shallow or anything like that but just because the people in the trailer obviously don’t know how their stay in paradise is going to end. I also found myself thinking about The Chernobyl Diaries and all of the other horror movies that have centered around the natural desire to go some place that you’re not actually allowed to visit. A lot of people will watch a movie like this and say, “Well, it was stupid of them to get in that situation!” but personally, there’s no way I would turn down the chance to explore a deserted luxury resort. Seriously, if you tell me I can spend a night in haunted hotel, I’m going to do it. Of course, I don’t believe in ghosts so I guess it would be easier for me to do that than someone who did. Still, my point stands. The reason why we find it so egregious when people in horror movies do stupid things is because, secretly, we all know we would do the exact same thing.

Anyway, with all that said, here’s the trailer for The Resort, which is due to be released on April 30th!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Schizoid (dir by David Paulsen)


The 1980 film, Schizoid, is all about the things you can do with scissors.

For instance, in the days before email, text messages, and social media, scissors could be used to cut words out of a magazines.  Those words could then be carefully pasted onto construction paper and then sent to an advice columnist like Julie Caffret (Marianna Hill).  Julie is pretty upset when she starts getting the notes, largely because they promise an anonymous reign of terror and murder.  The police, however, say that the notes probably don’t meant anything.  They’re probably just a hoax.  I mean, it’s true that several members of Julie’s therapy group have recently been murdered but the letters all talk about committing murder with a gun.  Whereas the members of the therapy group are being murdered by someone wielding …. SCISSORS!  (Cue that dramatic music.)

Of course, Julie has other things to worry about.  For instance, her ex-husband, Doug (Craig Wasson), is still in her life.  He’s putting up wallpaper in her office.  Or, at least, that’s what he says he’s doing.  It’s hard not to notice that he doesn’t seem to be making much progress with the job.  Plus, he apparently sleeps in the office, which just seems odd.  Then, there’s the building’s creepy maintenance man, Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd), who specializes in making people uncomfortable on elevators.  And then there’s the fact that Julie’s therapist, is played by Klaus Kinski!

Seriously, if you were looking for a therapist, would you go to Klaus Kinski?

From the minute Klaus shows up, it’s pretty obvious that the film wants us to assume that he’s the killer and really, it’s hard not to make that assumption.  We’re so used to seeing Klaus Kinski play evil and villainous characters and, even 30 years after his death, there are so many stories out there about how difficult Klaus Kinski could be to work with in real life that our natural reaction is to believe any character he plays must have a sinister motivation.  In this film, Klaus’s character has an out-of-control teenage daughter (Donna Wilkes) who tries to commit suicide by locking herself in the garage with a running car.  When Klaus takes an axe to the garage door, we’re left to seriously wonder if he’s planning on killing her or if he’s actually trying to save her life.  That said, Schizoid actually makes good use of Kinski’s menacing persona and Kinski himself gives a performance that elevates the entire film.  Kinski actually does manage to keep you guessing as to whether or not the therapist is a monster or if he’s just kind of a jerk.

Schizoid is usually classified as a slasher film, though it actually has more in common with the classic Italian giallo films that it does with any of the Friday the 13th sequels.  The killer’s identity is masked through POV shots and, in typical giallo fashion, the killer wears black gloves while committing his crimes.  We spend a good deal of the film following the police investigation, which is a typical element of the giallo genre but which is usually treated as an afterthought in post-Friday the 13th slasher films.  Much like Fulci’s The New York Ripper, Schizoid is a violent journey into the heart of darkness, a look at a world with no morality and no safety.  Also like Fulci’s film, it’s so shamelessly sleazy that it’s easy to miss the fact that it’s actually rather well-directed and acted.

Schizoid turned out to be a better film that I was expecting.  That said, I still have to wonder why anyone would select Klaus Kinski to be their therapist.

Film Review: The Poltergeist Diaries (dir by József Gallai)


“They wanted me to laugh when I wanted to cry,” Jacob Taylor (András Korcsmáros) says at one point during the upcoming horror film, The Poltergeist Diaries.

Jacob is attempting to explain why he’s recently abandoned not only his job but also the closeness of his girlfriend and his family and retreated to an isolated house in the middle of the woods.  And really, who can’t relate to what Jacob’s feeling?  We’ve all been in that situation at some point.  We’ve all felt that we were expected to conform to some arbitrary standard and that our honest emotions were not welcome.  Not all of us have chosen to go off the grid and isolate ourselves but there’s probably not a single person reading this who has not, at some point, been tempted.

We learn quite a bit about Jacob over the course of The Poltergeist Diaries.  We learn that he was always something of an outsider.  He was a seeker, a brilliant student who wrote stories and made films and who always seemed to be trying to discover some sort of hidden truth.  We learn that he was also close to his mother.  In fact, it was her worsening health that apparently led to Jacob leaving the city and heading out to the country.  He got a big house for a surprisingly cheap price.  He often filmed himself as he walked around the woods that surrounded his new home.  He saw things in the woods and he heard things in the house.

Of course, the main thing that we learn about Ben is that he’s missing.  The film opens with a statistic, telling us that thousands of people disappear every year in the United States and that only 15% of them are recovered alive.  Jacob Taylor is among the missing and whether or not he’s among that lucky 15% is anyone’s guess.

The Poltergeist Diaries is set up as a documentary, featuring interviews with the people who knew Jacob along with footage that Jacob himself shot of the woods and his house.  Among those interviewed are Jacob’s girlfriend (Kata Kuna) and his brother (Péter Inoka), along with a police detective (Dávid Fecske) who has his own reasons for taking a particular interest in Jacob’s mysterious disappearance.  Eric Roberts even makes a brief appearances, playing Jacob’s apologetic stepfather.  As I’ve said many times on this very site, any film the features Eric Roberts is automatically going to be better than any film that doesn’t.

It’s an effectively creepy film, one that makes good use of the faux-documentary format.  (Jacob being a frustrated artist helps to explain why, even with things getting increasingly strange in the house, he keeps filming.)  The first half of the film is dominated by interviews with people who knew Jacob and who are haunted by his disappearance.  By the time the film switches over to showing us the footage that Jacob filmed in the house and the woods, the audience is definitely ready to discover what happened.  András Korcsmáros plays Jacob as just being unstable enough to leave some doubt as to whether or not he’s really stumbled across something supernatural or if he’s just allowing the isolation to get to him.  He’s at his best when he’s trying to articulate what he’s feeling.  His performance captures Jacob’s desperation and makes him into an intriguing protagonist, one who is both sympathetic and enigmatic.  You’re never quite comfortable Jacob but you still hope the best for him.

Visually, director József Gallai does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous and threatening atmosphere.  The woods that surround Jacob’s house are creepy because they really do appear to stretch on forever and it’s very easy to imagine that they’re could be someone (or something) hiding behind every tree.  The imagery leaves you feeling uneasy and every time that Jacob went outside, I found myself anticipating an attack.  The inside of the house is just as creepy, full of dark hallways and menacing shadows.  This is a film that keep you watching for any hint of unexpected or mysterious movement.

It makes for an effectively intense and dream-like horror film, with the final 15 minutes providing a number of effective jump scares.  It’s a film that will inspire you to take a second look at every shadow and jump at every bump in the night.  It’s a seriously creepy movie.  Don’t watch alone.

Horror on TV: FreakyLinks 1.13 “The Final Word” (dir by David Straiton)


Well, Halloween is nearly over and so is Horrorthon.  Here’s is our final episode of televised horror for 2020.  It’s also the final episode of FreakyLinks!

In this episode, Ethan Embry and the team try to prove that a murder was actually a supernatural occurrence.  Their efforts are recorded for a true crime television show.  The mockumentary approach is reminiscent of The Blair With Project, which was done by the same people who were behind FreakyLinks.  So, there you go!

It’s too bad that there was never a Baywatch Nights/FreakyLinks cross-over.

Oh well.  This episode aired on June 22nd, 2001 and it brought to an end the story of Derek Barnes.  Enjoy the show, everyone!  Happy Halloween!