This is Halloween – Part 2

Three more “recently” watched horror movies.

Amityville III: The Demon (1983)

This was shown on the Horror Channel (they have a lot to answer for), and it was originally made to be shown in 3D which may account for why the picture never looked all that clear cut. After exposing a fake medium who is holding séances at the Amityville desres, sceptic journalist John Baxter decides that as he needs a place of his own and, for obvious reasons, 112 Ocean Avenue is going for a song he might as well pick up a bargain. He moves in and then for much of the rest of the film remains oblivious to the fact that the rest of the cast are going down like the flies that cluster in the house’s attic, or at least manages to come up with rational explanations for everything that happens. Finally with his daughter among the dead and his wife (they are separated) claiming her ghost is in the house, he calls in a team of paranormal investigators. This is when a demon rises out of the well in the house’s basement and sends them all to Hell, with the majority of the film’s budget spent on blowing the house up. Oh, but this was dire, with just about everybody mailing in their performances, and a cameo from a young Meg Ryan who probably never listed it on her CV. Baxter’s character is that of a cipher, somebody with practically no personality, his role simply to act as sceptic and catalyst for all the rest. The story is naff and the effects minimal, with the death of the daughter taking place off camera, probably because they couldn’t afford to have any water work done. The destruction of the house, with flames gushing from the windows, is seen from just about every possible camera angle so that the effect is almost as if it burnt down several times. That however didn’t stop the franchise from dragging on for several more outings.

Pulse (2006)

This was a Hollywood remake of Japanese film Kario (2001), which I much preferred. Friends of a computer hacker who commits suicide probe into his past and try to discover what led to his demise. They learn of a team of scientists who discovered new radio frequencies that let them communicate with the dead, only the dead are hungry for life and invading this reality. At which point the friends must attempt to undo the damage or, failing that, find a way to keep themselves safe. The basic premise here, of being able to communicate with the dead through a scientific medium, was explored in Philip Jose Farmer’s novel Traitor to the Living, but here, as with that book, the concept is simply used as a launch pad for other concerns, which to my mind was a complete waste as the idea and its implications are endlessly fascinating. With Pulse the emphasis is on horror, and so we never really learn what the dead want or hope to achieve, are simply told that they are hostile, and this is the cue for a welter of special effects and the occasional jump moment. These effects are very well done, in places striking and visionary, but at the same time they are wasted in a story that could have been so much more, while the characters in the main don’t seem to be anything other than flesh packets reacting to stimuli and I couldn’t really care about any of them. There are times when the material shouldn’t be shoehorned into a horror template, when it would fare much better if allowed to be something else, and this I am afraid was one of those occasions.

Ouija (2014)

Traditional methods of conversing with the dead are used in this pretty much by the numbers horror shocker. When a teenage girl commits suicide after using a Ouija board, her friends unwisely decide to try to contact her spirit by the same medium (which I guess shows you can’t learn from the mistakes of others). They unleash an evil entity, one that attempts to use them for its own ends. And after that it’s all rather what you expect (actually it was before that), even down to the spirit of the dead girl intervening to save her friends and a coda in which we get a strong hint of more to come (yes, there’s a sequel in the pipeline). There’s a twist as to the identity of the spirit who is causing all this mayhem, something most viewers will guess, in outline if not in particular. There are the requisite jump moments, the mostly effective attempts at creating atmosphere, and the central casting roster of photogenic teens, complete with distinguishing personality quirks, all primed to meet appropriately bad ends. Despite the horror label, it’s almost comfort viewing in a way, and I won’t deny that I had some fun with it, but not much and I have no inclination to watch it again any time soon.

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