Spooktober Part 4: Conjuring Up Some Scares

When I first dipped my toes into the realm of horror, I was a big chicken. Even though I was working my way through Stephen King’s early works, watching the accompanying films, and checking out older horror classics from the 70s and 80s, I was terrified of the horror genre. This was, in part, due to a traumatic experience with a then newer horror movie (but more on that next week). There were so many movies I wanted to watch because I was drawn to the stories, but I didn’t want to risk traumatizing myself again. The solution: I read film synopses off of Wikipedia. But now, time and experience mean that I feel confident enough to tackle just about any horror film that comes my way. I went from being terrified of some trailers to actively seeking the movies out years later so that I could cross them off my to-watch list. Am I less afraid than I was 10+ years ago? Am I able to watch horror more objectively now that I have a more academic understanding of the genre? Or have I watched so many nightmare inducing atrocities that I’ve been completely desensitized? Who knows?

The Remaining (2014): I’m not even sure why I kept watching this. Using religious stories, iconography, etc. in horror films is nothing new, but even when priests are exorcising demons they don’t turn the whole ordeal into a morality tale. Despite the waffling back and forth between being a found footage film and not, I was intrigued by the premise that the strange events were being caused by the rapture. I lost all interest long before flat and underdeveloped characters ruined things. I am not religious, and I am watching horror movies to be scared, grossed out, creeped out, etc., so to have to sit through the heavy handed Christian morality tale of sorts was truly horrific. All I got from this movie is that if I’m not a devout Christian who truly believes in god, then I deserve to suffer. Maybe this kind of ideology is exactly why I’m not religious.

Witness Infection (2020): This bordered on “so bad it’s good”, but barely. Although I got some chuckles out of this, Mark wasn’t nearly as amused as I was, so clearly this low budget horror comedy is not for everyone. And when I saw low budget, I mean it. This film certainly had better production value than a lot of the low budget horror movies I’ve watched this year, but there was something about it that stood out for all the wrong reasons. I wondered why about three people had the exact same breed of dog, until I realized that it was just the same dog in every scene acting as different dogs. And thankfully, despite the moments of bad acting, the dog was not the best actor in the film. A handful of well seasoned voice actors brought life to their stereotypical characters.

The Movies That Made Us, Season 3 (2021): Although it would be quite a stretch to call the last three films of the season horror movies, the first three episodes were dedicated to classic slashers. The holy trinity of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Kreuger made for a very interesting season of The Movies That Made Us. Horror or other, I love learning about what it’s like behind the scenes, so I adore this Netflix series. However, I do wish that all six episodes had been devoted to horror – or at least Halloween movies. Yes, those three slasher films are fixtures in pop culture, but there are so many other movies that would have suited a spooky theme. Personally, I vote for Hocus Pocus (1993). Still, I really enjoyed the spooky episodes. I especially enjoyed learning about the special effects in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the gore in Friday the 13th (1980), and why Halloween (1978) was bloodless.

The Old Ways (2020): I have mixed feelings about this one, but enjoyed it overall. At first, the connection between trauma leading to drug addiction equals demonic possession was a little heavy handed. Especially since Family Blood (2018) dealt with the concept much better when it linked drug addiction with vampirism. And it was hard to get invested in the scares when they were juxtaposed with jarringly happy scenes, especially when Cristina started treating the whole thing like a proper rehab experience. Maybe if they had gone a little harder with the juxtaposition and made the horror that much more horrific in comparison to the calmer scenes, that might have been more effective. But I still loved when Cristina embraced all that she learned and decided to carry on the old ways. Between the costume and the body language, she was phenomenal in that final scene.

The Strange House (2020): There wasn’t anything particularly original about this German film. A family moves to a new town. One of the kids hates it but he makes new friends – the token nerd and the token girl. There are bullies, suspicious neighbours, and a deceased parent. Oh, and their house is haunted. But despite that, this was such a fun movie to watch. As the film is centered around the children, it isn’t terrifying at all, but it is definitely spooky and delivers some respectable scares. Plus, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to look at snails the same way again. But I was genuinely invested in finding out who the killer was. I think this is something I would be willing to watch again.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021): The first thing that came to mind before I even started watching this was, I can’t believe the year my younger sister was born is now a throwback. And then I quickly got over that once I realized this was an homage to Scream (1996). And when I picked up on the references to Jaws (1975) I got even more excited. Now I want to go back and re-watch this trilogy to see if I can pick up on any additional horror movie references I might have missed. This one is my favourite out of the three, and not just because of the Jaws references. I felt that this story was the strongest, which makes sense since it is the story that connects all three films, so it would have to be strong in order to do that effectively.

Fear Street Part 2: 1978 (2021): An homage to Friday the 13th (1980) with references to Stephen King and Carrie (1976). Given my love of all things Stephen King as well as classic slasher films, I’m surprised this one wasn’t my fav. I think what stood in the way of my enjoyment was the predictability of the plot. Given the fact that Part 2 was teased at the end of Part 1, there was an obvious red herring when it came to the identity of C. Berman. And this film was so heavy handed with that red herring that it just made the eventual “twist” even more obvious.

Fear Street Part 3: 1666 (2021): Although this didn’t reference a specific classic horror film, per se, it certainly was an homage to a sub genre of horror. It’s hard not to think about the Salem Witch trials when you see women being vilified and persecuted simply for breaking the status quo. On the one hand, the tale of Sarah Fier moved a bit too quickly, but that was understandable given that the last act of the film was dedicated to wrapping up the story that was started in Part 1. Unfortunately, given the shorter amount of time to tell the story from 1666, that probably contributed to the fact that it was a little too easy to figure out who the real villain was. All in all, this was a satisfying end to the trilogy and I had a blast watching them.

Blood Pageant (2021): Honestly, I guess I hoped that a movie that managed to get Snoop Dogg would be more enjoyable, but that was not the case. Now, Snoop Dogg was absolutely the best part of the whole thing, but it felt like the director gave him a joint and just told him to do whatever he felt like doing. It was obvious in all of his scenes that he wasn’t sticking to a script of any kind. Still, this might have been a more enjoyable film if he had been in more of it. It might have also been easier to watch if it wasn’t almost two hours long. Oh, and this story was even more heavy handed in pushing Christian propaganda than The Remaining (2014). It was laughable, and not in a good way.

The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular (2017): I think this was probably my first time watching one of the more modern Mickey Mouse cartoons. The spooky shorts I’m used to watching are the ones that came out before I was even born. Not only did this have the same level of cartoon shenanigans as the older shows, but there were even subtle references to older Disney cartoons and films. Plus, I was glad to see that this didn’t pull any punches when it came to kid friendly frights and “gruesome” moments.

The Conjuring (2013): Well, there’s a reason this film got sequels and spawned a franchise. I have yet to be disappointed by a James Wan horror film and I’m appalled it took me this long to get around to the series. This was a film that, when the trailer first came out, I was still relatively new to horror and thought something like this would be a terrifying, impossible watch. Because of that, I stayed away from all films in the Conjuring universe. But when The Nun (2018) and The Curse of La Llorona (2019) appeared on Netflix within the last year or so, I watched them out of curiosity. And I loved them. So, when Annabelle Comes Home ended up on Netflix recently, I decided that this would be the year to watch the remaining films from this franchise. And yes, The Conjuring probably would have terrified me had I watched it in 2013, but I now have enough experience with horror films that I could appreciate this classic without worrying that I’ll be plagued by nightmares.

Annabelle (2014): I remember that this one didn’t get great reviews when it was released. I can see why. I debated watching all of the Annabelle films after all of the Conjuring films, but decided to watch them by released date instead. I’m glad I did this because maybe then I can get the weak films out of the way and finish this portion of the movie marathon strong. Watching this immediately after watching The Conjuring was probably a mistake because it only drew my attention to how much weaker Annabelle is by comparison. It was stressful watching Mia deal with all of the horror when she was pregnant because she was more vulnerable and literally couldn’t run away. But I lost that sense of stress the moment her baby was born because I knew Leah would probably be okay in the end. Seriously, though, if you have that many creepy porcelain dolls in your home, you’re just asking for trouble.

The Conjuring 2 (2016): Maybe it’s because The Nun was the first Conjuring universe film I saw, but I think Valak has got to be my favourite demonic/inhuman entity in this entire franchise. So obviously, I adored this sequel. Overall, I think that the first film had the stronger story, but this one had the best haunting/demonic presence. Not only is Valak just awesome and terrifying, but crotchety old Bill was also a satisfying ghost to have thrown into the mix. And I loved the amount of thought put in to dropping hints about the identity of the demon. Maybe it’s because I already knew the name from watching The Nun that made it easy to spot, but I saw the name “Valak” hidden around Ed and Lorraine’s house early in the film. I absolutely adore that kind of attention to detail.

Annabelle Creation (2017): Why do the Annabelle films keep featuring protagonists who physically can’t run away? Maybe it’s because this is probably the weakest demonic entity in all of the Conjuring films. I hoped a creepy looking doll would have been a scarier antagonist, but the only time I’ve actually enjoyed seeing Annabelle was when she showed up in the first Conjuring film. This movie is okay, but compared to the other films in the franchise it just doesn’t wow me. And the fact that I went into this with low expectations because of the first Annabelle film certainly didn’t help. I have a feeling that by movie number three I’ll be done with Annabelle’s bullshit.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019): So, how do I feel about Annabelle now? Meh. Now, this is definitely the strongest of the three Annabelle films in terms of story and scares, and I think that the fact that the Warrens had a bigger part to play in this one certainly contributed to this. But in terms of Annabelle herself, she wasn’t entirely necessary to the plot. The story would have played out exactly the same if it had been any other inhuman entity energizing the possessed artifacts. But having Annabelle in control was still effective. It’s interesting that in the two films where she takes center stage, I found the movies weak. But when she is present but not the only threat in a film, that’s when I find her interesting. So basically, I’m okay if Annabelle keeps showing up in the franchise, but I don’t want her to be the star of the show.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021): I think what I like so much about the Conjuring films, and the Conjuring universe for that matter, is that there are strong female characters. I’m not just talking about the feisty Final Girls who survive every time, or the protective mothers and mother figures who will do anything to protect the children in their care. Lorraine Warren is such a phenomenal character, and the fact that she has just as much power and agency as her husband makes her that much better. And is it just me, or is she even more badass in this one? Apart from that moment where she screamed at a rat. But I’m willing to bet that moment was used more as a way to frighten the audience rather that present any weakness in her. And, as with the other two Conjuring films, The Devil Made Me Do It is stronger than the spin offs in the franchise. In fact, I heard rave reviews on social media when it came to theatres, so I expected to enjoy it. I was not disappointed. Although there is a sense of mystery in the entire trilogy, the mystery here is much deeper and much more interesting, presenting an impressive adversary who is Lorraine’s equal. Stylistically, it’s clear that this was not directed by James Wan like The Conjuring 1 and 2, but at least director Michael Chaves did an excellent job of playing with light, dark, and camera angles in order to build tension.

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