Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I binge watched the 10-episode, 10-hour series The Haunting of Hill House in a day on Netflix—and I wanted more.

So, yeah, it’s good.

Based, very loosely, on the Shirley Jackson novel, it tells the story of a family living in a creepy house while the parents (Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas) renovate it for the purpose of flipping it for profit. Things begin to go badly in a haunting kind of way, and events occur that have ramifications throughout the years.

The show covers two time periods, one in which Thomas (who is beyond excellent) plays the young dad, and Timothy Hutton (also excellent) plays him two decades later. The cast is stellar across the board, with the likes of Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Elizabeth Reaser playing the adult versions of the siblings, and Paxton Singleton, Lulu Wilson and Violet McGraw playing them as children.

There are lots of ghosts in the show, and some of them are truly terrifying, including a tall, levitating ghost that guides himself by tapping a cane on the floor. The show is as much a family drama as a horror show, pulling off both genres efficiently.

The Haunting of Hill House is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Now Netflix is chipping in on the effort to make us all forget that filmed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower with this adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game, a powerhouse acting job for both Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

They play Jessie and Gerald, a married couple who have hit tough times. They attempt to rekindle their relationship on a holiday excursion which includes her getting handcuffed to the bed. Things go bad—like, really bad—and Jessie winds up in a truly precarious situation that involves starving, dehydrating and hallucinating.

The original King novel, of course, finds a way for Gerald to stick around for the whole movie, even after a fatal heart attack, while flashbacks show us additional traumas involving Jessie’s dad (Henry Thomas).

The movie is, appropriately, hard to watch at times, as a hungry dog comes by for a visit, and Jessie searches for ways to get her hands out of those cuffs. (Hint: Things get bloody.)

This is a career-best performance from Gugino, who carries most of the movie on her back. Greenwood is allowed to get deranged in the role, and he does just that. Visits from a ghostly giant give the movie a supernatural twist, and it gets legitimately scary.

This wasn’t one of King’s best novels (he basically ripped himself off with elements of Dolores Claiborne and Misery), but Gerald’s Game does wind up being one of the better filmed King adaptations.

Gerald’s Game is currently streaming on Netflix. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

How bad was Ouija? It was so piss-poor and forgettable that I had to actually look into the archives for a review to confirm I had actually seen the damn thing back in 2014. I wasn’t sure.

As it turns out, I had seen the movie, and I proclaimed the following: “The wannabe scares in this PG-13 outing consist of fake-outs and people behind doors—the kind of stuff you’ll see coming if you’ve seen, say, one horror movie in your lifetime. If that is, in fact, true, don’t make this your second horror movie, for you will wind up massively disappointed.”

In short, Ouija was a deplorable shit show.

This brings us to Ouija: Origin of Evil, which is a bona fide movie miracle in many ways. Ouija was awful, yet it made enough money to warrant a sequel. Still, it shocked me to see the sequel actually made it to movie screens rather than some direct-to-digital platform. The fact that Mike Flanagan, the director of the crappy Oculus, was at the helm did little to quash my skepticism.

After about 30 seconds of watching young Lulu Wilson as Doris Zander, I realized that Flanagan might to be onto something with this casting: This kid—with her authentic 1960s haircut and mature-beyond-her-years delivery—crafts one of the great horror-film performances of all time. Yes, I’m bestowing that honor on a performance that occurs in a sequel to one of the worst horror films ever made.

Yet another miracle: The film, set convincingly in 1965, is truly inspired and creepy. Is it one of the best horror films ever made? No; a few missteps in the final act take it down a notch. But is it one of the best horror sequels ever made? You bet it is.

Doris is the daughter of Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) and sister of Lina (Annalise Basso). Lina is the younger version of a character played by Lin Shaye in the original. The house in which they reside is the house where the girl hung herself in Ouija. The whole thing, as the title implies, is an origin story.

We find out how a Ouija board winds up in the house, and more about the spirits that correspond through the board. After a couple of nice conversations with her dead dad, Doris winds up conferring with a rather nasty spirit, who possesses her and causes her face and eyes to do nightmarish things. Huge props to the special effects department for creating some of the best contorting tricks since the girl from The Grudge did her wacky crawling all over that townhouse.

Flanagan captures lightning in a bottle with this ensemble, which also includes Henry Thomas in the standard horror-film priest role—although he makes the character someone deeper and more complicated. Thomas hasn’t been this good since E.T. This is not a dig on him, because he’s usually good; it’s just a way of saying he really hits this one out of the park.

As the anchor of the film, Basso is excellent as the young girl trying to fall in love with a boy while her sister is going bananas and her mother is stumbling a tad with the parenting thing. Make sure to stay after the credits to see a scene that’s crucial in connecting the two Ouija films together.

Flanagan proves he can make a horror film that is scary, multidimensional and effectively authentic. His ability to stage a convincing late 1960s setting shows he also has a visual talent that can take him beyond the horror genre. Most importantly, he’s quite the expert at delivering solid, core punching scares.

The horror genre has been resurgent in the last couple of years. That said, nobody in their right mind could’ve expected something this good here, considering the crap pedigree going in. Ouija: Origin of Evil, in a year littered with many predictable disappointments, is one of 2016’s greatest surprises.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews