Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 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

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

The movie holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter the same child actress who turned in incredible work in the also surprisingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances—from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman—but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit.

The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, with other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte, (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) a doll maker who, we have learned in the film’s prologue, lost his daughter, Bee, in a tragic roadside accident. He’s miserable; his wife (Otto) is bedridden and ill; and he probably shouldn’t be accepting a bunch of orphans to live in his haunted house.

Yes, the house is haunted with a spirit residing in that creepy doll we’ve all come know and hate so damned much. I hate creepy dolls almost as much as I hate creepy clowns. Speaking of which, while Annabelle: Creation has some good scares, the preview scene from It that played before the flick was top-notch scary, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. OK, I got off track a little bit.

Janice had polio, which has left her with a leg brace and a basic inability to run away from haunted, creepy, demonic dolls. One thing leads to another, and characters start getting possessed and ripped to shreds by demon forces. Damn those creepy dolls! Damn them to hell! Wilson was great in Ouija and is quite good here, but it’s Bateman who is the real scene-stealer this time out. She makes Janice genuine, and you pull for her to get out of the movie with most of herself intact.

Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film. (Talitha’s younger brother, Gabriel Bateman, starred in that movie.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with jolt scares; there are many moments in this movie when you are expecting one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies; the authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.

Does the film horrify or scare on the same level as Carpenter or vintage Romero? Absolutely not. Will it please those of us who like a capable horror thriller that’s low on cheesiness? Yes. It’s a decent, late-summer, let’s-not-change-the-world-of-cinema-but-deliver-something-relatively-fun kind of film. It’s forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

These Annabelle movies, and the upcoming The Nun, have sprouted from The Conjuring franchise. Give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise right (well, mostly right), as opposed to that nonsense Universal tried to kick off earlier in the summer with The Mummy. These stories are coming together nicely, and don’t feel forced and silly like, for instance, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) inexplicably showing up as some sort of super monster detective. Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link the Conjuring universe together.

Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as the best doll you shouldn’t have bought in the first place, because it intends to kill you. I’m hoping for Chucky vs. Annabelle in the future.

Annabelle: Creation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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