October, we hardly knew ye.
I’ve been watching a glut of horror movies every week as part of Shocktober, and it’s been an especially fruitful year. It’s a genre best known for jump scares, but that’s selling good horror short—done right, it’s deeply thought provoking.
Every week, I’ve been filing reports from the field. So far, we’ve covered Goodnight Mommy, Unfriended, Cooties, The Visit, Jacob’s Ladder, We Are Still Here, Contracted: Phase II, Poltergeist, and The Tenant. Not a bad list, so long as we pretend the Poltergeist remake doesn’t exist and we never talk about it again.
- Shocktober, Week Three: That Poltergeist Remake Sure Was Garbage
- Shocktober, Week Two: Hey, M. Night Shyamalan’s New Movie Doesn’t Suck!
In addition to these, I’ve been recording a weekly podcast with my wife called Til Death Do Us Part. It’s been tremendously fun, and we’re looking forward to keeping it going past Shocktober. You can subscribe to via iTunes or stream it. If you use non-Apple podcast apps, grab the RSS feed from right here.
All that said, let’s end this right...
I’m a few weeks behind, but that was a positive; I went into the movie with the right expectations. The trailers have been selling Crimson Peak as a fright fest, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Crimson Peak is a gothic romance that, as the movie points out in its opening, happens to feature a few ghosts.
It’s utterly gorgeous—we accidentally saw an IMAX showing, and I couldn’t be happier—and full of the hammiest performances from an all-star cast that wouldn’t be caught dead in a movie like this, if it weren’t for del Toro’s name.
Can we talk about something for a second, though? What’s up with del Toro’s love affair with Charlie Hunnam? Like others, I watched every season of Sons of Anarchy because the first two made me fall in love with a bunch of biker assholes and I was determined to see how it all ended (awfully, by the way). But Hunnam’s presence in del Toro’s past two films—Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak—have me convinced Hunnam really is a terrible actor. I was howling the first time he appeared on-screen with the incredible Mia Wasikowska, who managed to out-act Hunnam without even really trying. Stay in your lane, Hunnam!
Crimson Peak isn’t great, but a movie made with love. The set design, the performances, the fleeting but frightening apparitions—del Toro is wears his passions on his sleeve. Crimson Peak is undeniably del Toro, for better and worse.
It’s popular to shit on Paranormal Activity these days because there’s been so many of them, but let’s get real: they scare the shit out of me. Yes, some are better than others—1, 3, 5 are the best entries—but in an era where movies can’t wait to show you everything and anything to keep you interested, a series that prides itself on scaring you by showing basically nothing remains novel.
It’s funny, then, that The Ghost Dimension takes the opposite approach. The goofy “see the activity for the first time” tagline translates into a refreshing way to experience the same bumps in the night that have defined theses movies, thanks to a magic camera that allows the dumb but charming residents to “see” the ghosts.
It’s definitely “see” in quotes, though. As with most Paranormal Activity movies, you can tell the budget was whatever they found in the seat cushions. That works fine when it’s nothing more than sheets fluttering in the night, less so when demons are marching around. Once again, less is more, and The Ghost Dimension is most effective when it’s playing with perception.
One effective scene involves a ghost hovering over a child while the mother comforts them. As we swap between shots that show us the demon and shots that hide them, our mind fills in the blanks, and it’s a great setup for a scare.
If you haven’t been following along since the original, there’s no reason to watch The Ghost Dimension. This one’s for people who, for whatever reason, have become invested in What The Hell Is Going On. I’m one of those people, and I thought it ended pretty well. As much as you could hope from a ghost story that should have stopped after the first one and kept going five more times, anyway.
I could watch a dozen movies with Lin Shaye running around and shouting at ghosts. As the glue of the Insidious series, she’s carved out a niche as an old bad ass. This pseudo-origin story is about why she keeps on talking to the dead.
Yes, Insidious: Chapter Two was bad, but it’s worth coming back for the third one. You don’t say that very often about a horror franchise, but it’s true. The course correction here is finally ditching the dragged out storyline that made the second film a bore, and finding a new group of people for ghosts to terrorize.
For three movies now, Insidious has been about the quiet, obnoxiously loud violins, and jump scares. That formula continues to pay off in Insidious: Chapter Three, largely fueled by the horrifying new specters they’ve come up with.
But what makes it work is Shaye grounding the whole thing emotionally. Origin stories are where horror goes to die, as a series seeks to “explain” what’s going on. That’s not the case with Insidious: Chapter Three, as it largely succeeds at providing context to the previous entries, enriching the stories that come after.
Bring on Insidious: Chapter Four, I say.
Thanks for watching these movies with me this month! Let’s do it again soon.
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