REVIEW: THE CONJURING-THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

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THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.

Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.

The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 20 HAUNTED HOUSE FLICKS FOR HALLOWEEN!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 20 HAUNTED HOUSE FLICKS FOR HALLOWEEN!


Madison Iseman’s babysitter Mary Ellen finds paranormal peril when babysitting for Ed and Lorraine Warren in Annabelle Comes Home.

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As we approach Halloween, what better way to celebrate than with the classic horror film trope, the haunted house! There are a lot to choose from, so, here is a sample realty catalogue of terror, from different decades, in which a dream home becomes a nightmare!

( You can find reviews for the below titles covered here by using the search engine at the top of the page!)

This haunted house needs no introduction.

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

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The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.

This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist..the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at anytime and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really makes her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is a intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.

The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end, but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parents line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets it’s sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.

This movie gave continual goose-bumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinx. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

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I’ll start off by saying that I do think James Wan is a good director. But Wan just seems to be making the same haunted house movie over and over again and still makes the mistake of going all theatrical in his second act when subtle was working far spookier. Sequel to Wan’s overrated hit The Conjuring starts out with real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating the famous Amityville haunting. While Lorraine suffers a horrifying vision that makes her question what she’s doing, a single mother (Francis O’Connor) and her kids in Enfield, England start to have things go bump in the night. The church asks the ghost hunting couple to travel to England to establish a validity to the Hodgson family story, while Lorraine is being haunted by a frightening specter of her own.

As with most of Wan’s horror flicks the initial set-up works well and actually has some really spooky sequences. There are some nice scares in the first hour before the Warrens travel to England, with the Enfield haunting escalating and Lorraine seeing a malevolent entity in her own home. We get to know this family very well and do start to endear to them, much like we do Ed and Lorraine. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens’ paranormal escapades, their cinematic counterparts are likable movie characters. Visually the film is well designed, too. Wan has a good eye and choses more muted shades of blue/grey this time, where his Insidious flicks were more colorful and The Conjuring used more faded shades of brown. It suits the building mood, setting and atmosphere well. It also gives the film it’s own look, which is pretty much the only thing new here. The movie starts to run into trouble though, with simply being far too long. At 134 minutes, the flick gets very tedious and it’s middle section drags with only the occasional scare…mostly of the jump variety as Wan seems to rely more on those in the second half than the tension he built in the first half. It kills his chilling momentum as the film’s moderate pace really works against it at this point. For his climax, we again get all theatrical, cliché and over-the-top with thunder and lightening, levitations, yellow contact lenses, growling voices and the now trademarked Wan snarling demon enjoying the effects of their carnage. While we are spared an actual exorcism, we still get pretty much the same end to almost all his supernatural flicks and as with those, he looses his grip with all the mechanically paraded out tropes…twice familiar now for being used repeatedly in Wan’s films, as well as supernatural horrors in general. Like I said in my opening statement, it’s like he’s making the same movie over and over again.

One familiar element that is welcome in Wan’s films is he gets good work from his actors. The cast are really good here and help keep our interest on the story despite being routine. Wilson and Farmiga really have locked in their interpretation of the Warrens and have a good chemistry together. O’Connor is very good as the hysterical mother, though it is young Madison Wolfe who really impresses as 11 year-old Janet. She is the object of the evil presence’s attention and portrays her torment well for a kid. There is a large supporting cast, including Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente, who all do well portraying people from the actual investigation. A nice touch has pictures of the cast in character posted next to the actual individuals during the closing credits.

Much like the familiarity in Wan’s movies, my review’s for them are getting equally familiar. Once again Wan shines in the first half with some legitimate scares and thick spooky atmosphere. He then gives us a bloated middle that plods along, dissipating the atmosphere he built so well early on. He wraps it up with a very theatrical and over-the-top finale, with all the well worn tropes present…yet none of the actual scares he gave us in the more involving and chilling first half. Wan is a good director…but one whose overindulgence and adhering to the same tired formula keeps his flicks from being really special and completely satisfying.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 spooks

paranormal activity 5 rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ANNABELLE (2014)

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ANNABELLE (2014)

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I’m not the biggest fan of The Conjuring. It was a well made film and had some spooky moments but, not nearly as good as it’s reputation suggests and it doesn’t hold up with repeat viewings. The film was a big hit, though and as money is what runs Hollywood, they couldn’t wait to pry more cash out of the pockets of The Conjuring‘s audience…and there are few better examples of a heartless, soulless, cash grab than this flick.

The unimaginative story takes place in the 70s, a year before the opening scene of The ConjuringWe have young couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) expecting their first child and, of course, John celebrates this by buying the creepiest doll possible for his doll collector wife. That night their neighbors are slaughtered by their cultist daughter (Tree O’Toole) and her equally wacky boyfriend who, for some reason, decide to visit Mia and John after slaying mommy and daddy. There is an altercation in which Mia is stabbed but, the police arrive and kill the boyfriend while the daughter “Annabelle” commits suicide while holding the creepy doll…for the sole reason of setting up a horror film. Mia survives, as does their newborn daughter but, before you can say “burning Jiffy-Pop” the couple are besieged with every overused cliché in the horror movie manual as some demonic force has come to claim the baby’s soul.

With flat and by-the-numbers direction from John R. Leonetti and a completely unimaginative script by Gary Dauberman, this film can only be seen as the transparent attempt for quick cash that it is. There is literally nothing we haven’t seen before here and that would be fine if Leonetti directed these horror tropes with even the slightest bit of passion or energy. It barely follows a cohesive story as it runs through every cliché it can in it’s 99 minutes. We get flashing lights, dolls changing position, thrown out objects returning to their owners…without much concern either…and demonic creatures glimpsed in the shadows. We also get the stereotypical character who knows all about the occult and just happens to run a book shop down the block. Conveniently there to befriend and then help the embattled couple, since the stereotypical holy man only gets bitch-slapped by the evil force. This flick rips off practically every demonic evil and haunting movie that’s come before it and does so brazenly…it actually takes balls to blatantly rip-off the climax of one of the greatest horror movies ever made and not even have the respect to pay homage or give it a nod. At least James Wan freshened up the familiar material. They don’t even try here and that is the most insulting thing of all about this flick, the incredibly lazy, lack of effort to even remotely create something actually of merit. Did the director even show up on set? The wooden performances by it’s leads…and it almost takes an effort to get a boring performance out of Alfre Woodward…and the totally bland camera set-ups, makes me question if Leonetti was home watching The View and counting his money on his couch while one of his production assistants hit the “on” button on the camera. There is just no heart or effort in this film at all.

Annabelle is a completely obvious…and sadly successful…prequel/spin-off that doesn’t even have the cleverness to at least be cohesive with the film it is a prequel to. In The Conjuring it’s stated that there actually is no real Annabelle, it was a name the demon made up in the guise of a child spirit, yet, here we have a character named Annabelle whose death with the doll gives it it’s name. Did Dauberman even watch Wan’s flick? This is not only a complete waste of time but, a sad example of how little the studio beancounters care about the fans of a hit film. I can undertand wanting to keep the momentum going till Wan gets around to an actual sequel but, at least try to give the audience something worth their hard-earned cash…at least TRY! Not the worst movie I’ve seen but, lazy to the point of insulting.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1/2 dolls!

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CONJURING SPIN-OFF GETS A TEASER TRAILER!

 

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I’m not a huge fan of the overrated The Conjuring. It was a well made haunted house flick but, didn’t really knock my cinematic socks off like it did others. But, it was a hit and instead of bringing us another case from The Warrens, producer James Wan has decided to hit us with a spin-off featuring the doll ‘Annabelle’ from The Conjuring‘s opening scenes… um, Ok… so, here is the first teaser from the John Leonetti directed flick and it looks kinda…meh. Leonetti has been Wan’s cinematographer since Dead Silence and is a damn good one as Wan’s flicks look great. As a director he had only done two flicks, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Butterfly Effect 2 so… not sure what to expect here. We’ll see 10/3/14.

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

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THE CONJURING (2013)

Much like his Insidious, James Wan delivers some very spooky goods during the first two thirds of his latest haunted house chiller, but as with that film, loses his grip somewhat in a theatrical and overly familiar last act. The Conjuring takes place in 1971 and is based on a supposedly true case-file from world renown paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It tells of one of their most horrifying cases, the haunting of a remote, old Rhode Island home bought by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters. Soon after they move in, things start to go bump in the night and the family, especially the children, are increasingly terrorized by a malevolent entity and a variety of other spirits. Carolyn comes to the Warrens for help and what results is a paranormal investigation that turns into a battle against the vengeful spirit of a woman accused of being a witch and Satan worshiper, who wants to use Carolyn as a vessel for her malevolent deeds.

For the first two thirds of this flick, the skillful Wan is very good at utilizing the time honored haunted house conventions and using them well to give us some nice chills and scares. But despite Wan’s craft at scaring us in the first 2/3 of this horror flick, he once again, as he did in Insidious, looses his grip on us with a finale that is theatrical and far too routine, as it presents yet another by-the-numbers exorcism scene that brings nothing new and therefore no suspense to the story. It’s just more levitation and vomiting and scary contact lenses that adds nothing remotely fresh to the convention. And this is odd because, Wan is good as making the conventions effective such as birds flying into windows and the customary furniture moving and shadowy phantoms. We’ve seen it all before, sure, but Wan presents them well. Yet while the rest of the movie is grounded in these basic conventions, he goes full blown Hollywood horror with his last act and we get a finale that is stale and predictable right down to characters being dragged around the floor by invisible assailants. Granted he is following a supposedly true tale, but it disappoints that he can’t seem to maintain the level of creepiness and loosens his grasp on us in the over-indulgence of giving us a ‘big finale’ as he did in his last haunted house horror. And even with that, Conjuring ends suddenly and with kind of a whimper when all is said and done. You’re like ‘that’s it? it’s over?’ This is supposed to be one of the Warrens’ worst cases, yet it doesn’t seem any worse then their Amityville Horror or Haunting In Connecticut cases. The film never really takes us on the decent into Hell you’d expect when someone like The Warrens makes claim that this is one of their worst encounters. It isn’t any more severe then Insidious or any other haunted house movie.

But, still, it is effective enough to entertain to a decent degree and Wan’s visual style is great to look at as always. Despite some hokey dialog, the cast all perform well, thought I again feel Patrick Wilson is a bit wooden especially compared to the livelier Farmiga and Lili Taylor, who really does strong work here.

All in all, The Conjuring is effective enough to amuse and entertain, but in the end, is far too routine and familiar to really be something special or truly scary enough to make it stand out from the rest. Go in with moderate expectations and you might have a good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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