After watching movies at home for about a year and a half, it was so nice to make my return to the movie theater to see the latest in what is probably my favorite modern horror franchise (with the exception of a couple of the spinoffs). I love The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, and while the third installment’s subtitle is a little silly, it’s probably my favorite one of the series.
In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) find themselves entangled in a satanic curse conspiracy as they attempt to prove that a young man accused of murder, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’ Connor), was under demonic possession at the time of the crime. The more they dig, the more they realize this isn’t an isolated incident; this particular entity has claimed other victims, and the Warrens may be next.
The reason I like paranormal/supernatural horror movies more than other sub-genres is because the danger isn’t something physical; you can’t just double tap a ghost or demon or run and hide from them, and this movie does an especially good job making it feel like there is no escape from the evil terrorizing the protagonists; nowhere feels safe, and nearly every scene is filled with tension. It immediately starts with the violent exorcism of 8-year-old David Glatzel (Julian Hilliard), and that intense, frenetic scene sets the tone for the rest of the film; my heart rate was instantly up and stayed there for the next two hours. While there are obviously several jump scares, they mostly all feel earned; the build up to some of the particularly scary moments is exquisite.
Like the previous films, one of this movie’s biggest strengths is its stellar cast. As usual, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have excellent chemistry. Other standouts include John Noble as Father Kastner, who gives a wonderfully eerie performance, and Eugenie Bondurant as the mysterious occultist, who, despite not having a lot of screen time, is memorably spooky in her role.
I only have a couple complaints about this movie, directed Michael Chaves. The first is that there’s a good amount of sappy, saccharine dialogue that made me roll my eyes more than once and made several of my fellow audience members groan. The other is that there are a couple moments where characters who are otherwise intelligent and level-headed make absurdly stupid decisions that put them in danger, which feels like such lazy writing choice; the same outcome could have easily been reached through other actions. It might seem nit-picky, but it’s a big pet peeve of mine in horror movies.
Overall, though, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is an excellent addition to the series, and I’m already looking forward to watching it again, along with the first two, as a triple feature once it’s available for streaming.
Have you seen the latest from THE CONJURING franchise? Well, what did you think?
Sorry for the delay on this one! Turns out watching 9 1-hour episodes of a mini-series is difficult to do quickly when you have a full-time job, and for some reason my boyfriend didn’t want to stay up until 3am watching every episode back to back (what a killjoy).
However, I have finally finished The Haunting of Bly Manor, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House, and am eager to share my thoughts with you. Unlike Hill House, I haven’t read the book this series is based on (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw) yet, but I plan to, and I’m looking forward to re-watching after reading it and hopefully catching more connections and references.
The Haunting of Bly Manor follows Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) as she starts a job as an au pair to two young orphans, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) at their enormous mansion in the small English village of Bly. Their previous au pair, Rebecka Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), died tragically not long before Dani’s arrival, and her memory, along with Dani’s own dark past, loom over her.
While I didn’t like Bly Manor quite as much as I liked Hill House, I still think it’s an incredibly well-done series. It’s even more of a slow burn than its predecessor, so people hoping to be scared a lot in each episode might be disappointed, although there are still plenty of suspenseful moments and creepy imagery; like Hill House, there are several hidden ghosts throughout the series, and I only managed to catch a few of them on my first watch. There’s much more of a focus on the ghosts’ lives (er…afterlives) and how their existence on the grounds of Bly Manor works, which is an interesting concept that I really appreciated.
Like Hill House, Bly Manor has an incredible cast. There are several actors from the former that appear in the latter; in addition to Victoria Pedretti as Dani, we have Henry Thomas as Henry Wingrave, Flora and Miles’s tormented uncle, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Peter Quint, Henry’s manipulative and conniving valet, Katie Siegel as Viola Lloyd, the original lady of Bly Manor, Katie Parker as Perdita, Viola’s sister, and Carla Gugino as the storyteller. It’s a lot of fun seeing these familiar faces in different roles getting to stretch their acting muscles, especially Jackson-Cohen, who goes from this heartbreakingly vulnerable character you want to hug in Hill House to a villain you want to punch in the face in Bly Manor.
But while seeing the returning actors in this new season is great, the new cast members are the ones that really shine. Rahul Kohli as Owen, the cook at Bly Manor, is delightful; I adored him in his role in iZombie, and he brings the same humor and likability from that performance to this one. T’Nia Miller as Hannah Grose, the housekeeper, gives a beautiful and gut-wrenching performance, and her chemistry with Owen is so lovely. Tahirah Sharif as Rebecka Jessel is absolutely haunting. Amelia Eve as Jamie, the gardener, is so engaging. And, like Hill House, the child actors in Bly Manor are spectacular. Amelie Bea Smith as Flora is so sweet and funny, but Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles gives the most impressive performance, especially considering how complex his role ends up being.
My only serious gripe with Bly Manor is that it seems to have some pacing problems. This series is one episode shorter than its predecessor, which makes it even more difficult to fit in all the backstory and subplots without it feeling messy. Because there’s less time to flesh out some characters, their character growth feels unearned (specifically Peter Quint), some exposition feels clunky and rushed, and some subplots that were built up as more important are dropped altogether (seriously, what happened with SPOILER [highlight to read]Dani’s confrontation with the ghost of her ex-fiance at the end of episode 4?! They spend the first few episodes hinting at this dark part of her past, and we finally get this moment that might resolve everything, and then it’s just dropped for the rest of the series! Why?! I can understand potentially not having enough material for 10 full episodes, but if they had maybe made each episode a little longer, the pacing might not have been as much of an issue.
Despite the pacing issues, and despite it being less straightforward horror than Hill House, I would still recommend checking out The Haunting of Bly Manor. It’s visually stunning, beautifully written, and expertly performed, and I’m already racking my brain for other classic ghost stories that Mike Flanagan could possibly adapt for season 3. If you have any you think would work, let me know in the comments!
Have you seen The Haunting of Bly Manor? Well, what did you think?
I grew up in the golden age of Disney Channel shows. As atween, I would have killed to trade my middle school uniform for Lizzie McGuire’s bedazzled jeans and flashy tops, I would have ruled the world with Raven Baxter’s precognitive powers, and I totally would have been best friends with Ren Stevens. But my all-time favorite Disney Channel show, So Weird, is one that kind of flew under the radar and never got as much hype as the others. To be fair, it had a significantly different tone from the sparkly and neon pop vibe of the others that seemed to define a lot of preteen entertainment in the late nineties/early two thousands; it was more like X-Files for kids. And it played a huge part in developing my love of the horror genre.
So Weird follows Fiona “Fi” Phillips (Cara DeLizia), a preteen girl girl obsessed with the paranormal, as she travels the country with her musician mother Molly Phillips (Mackenzie Phillips), older brother Jack (Patrick Levis), her mother’s manager and best friend Irene Bell (Belinda Metz), Irene’s husband and tour bus driver Ned (Dave “Squatch” Ward), and their sons Clu (Erik Von Detten) and Carey (Eric Lively). Fi seems to encounter strange things wherever she goes, from the standard aliens and ghosts to folkloric figures like will o’ the wisps and banshees, all the while learning that her late father, Rick Phillips (Chris Gibson), might have been just as entangled in the world of the supernatural as his daughter.
The thing I love most about So Weird is that it doesn’t shy away from mature subjects despite it being a kids’ show. Death is an overarching theme; Fi constantly mourns the absence of her father, who died when she was two years old, several episodes focus on life after death, and there are multiple instances where characters are actually in danger of dying. The show also focuses on familial strife. Molly struggles with being a single mom on the road and mourning her late husband; Fi and Jack argue often and struggle to find common ground; there are even several episodes alluding to Molly’s difficult home life growing up and her strained relationship with her parents.
These themes wouldn’t land nearly as well without a strong cast, and fortunately So Weird has that. Cara DeLizia as Fi gives a likable and relatable performance, and she and Patrick Levis have amazing chemistry as brother and sister; they butt heads but still clearly love each other, and this dynamic never feels cheesy like a lot of other TV sibling relationships. Erik Von Detten as Clu provides plenty of comedic relief while still giving some touching, emotional performances. Belinda Metz as Irene and Dave “Squatch” Ward are a delight to watch and work so well together. And Mackenzie Phillips as Molly is extraordinary and gives some truly heartbreaking performances throughout the series.
Phillips doesn’t only give a strong acting performance in the series; her character is a musician, after all, and her musical skills are oneof the things that makes So Weird extra memorable. The show’s opening song, “In the Darkness,” sets the tone so well, but there are several other songs throughout the series that have stuck with me over the past 20 years; “Rebecca” and “The Rock” are especially haunting. Seriously, if they ever release a So Weird soundtrack, I will be the first to buy it.
That said, the series did weaken in the third and final season due to a major tonal shift. If IMDB is to be believed, the show-runners wanted the third season to be a lot darker, but Disney rejected it and demanded a lighter storyline. Fi leaves the show altogether and is replaced with Annie (Alexz Johnson), the daughter of one of Molly’s old friends. It’s not Johnson’s fault-she gives a fun, solid performance throughout the season- but the episode plots in season three feel a lot goofier with lower stakes.
Despite the show’s underwhelming ending, So Weird has endured as a fun, spooky show for young horror fans. It’s been off the air since 2001, and for years you could only watch poorly-rendered uploads on YouTube, so I’m thrilled it’s available on Disney+ now.If you don’t have time to binge the whole series but still want to watch a few spooky episodes to get into the Halloween season, I would recommend “Angel” (season 1 episode 7), “Will ‘O the Wisp” (season 1 episode 13), “Boo” (season 2 episode 7-the show’s Halloween episode with a delightful performance from guest star/show producer Henry Winkler), “Banshee” (season 2 episode 11), and “Strange Geometry” (season 2 episode 12).
Shirley Jackson‘s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House is a classic work of horror literature. Eerie, atmospheric, and poignant, this ghost story has been adapted on more than one occasion with varying degrees of success: the 1963 film The Haunting is a mostly faithful adaptation and a classic in its own right, while the 1999 version with the same name is…to put it nicely, a product of its time. And while Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix mini-series is pretty much an “in name only” adaptation, it still manages to capture the tense, beautiful, heartbreaking tone of its source material.
The Haunting of Hill House sees the Crain family forced to confront memories of their old home after the youngest sibling, Nell (Victoria Pedretti), dies there, seemingly having taken her own life. Flashing between the past and present, we see how trauma they endured at Hill House has followed them throughout their lives- and how hard it is still trying to pull them back.
Because this show premiered two years ago and was wildly successful, resulting in tons of articles and videos reviewing and analyzing it, I doubt I’ll have any new hot takes, but because its highly-anticipated follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor (loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn of The Screw), is coming out next month and will be covered in my HallowStream series, it seemed like a good idea to revisit Hill House in preparation for the new season.
While the mini-series isn’t a retelling of the novel, there are so many little references to it that fans of the book can appreciate. The most obvious are the names of the Crain family members: father Hugh (Timothy Hutton/Henry Thomas) is the name of the house’s original owner in the novel; siblings Nell (Victoria Pedretti/Violet McGraw), Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen/Julian Hilliard), and Theo (Kate Siegel/Mckenna Grace) are the names of the three guests of Hill House; and Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser/Lulu Wilson), of course, is a reference to author Shirley Jackson. Besides the names, there are smaller details- Nell’s cup of stars, the “Welcome home, Eleanor” message written on the wall, the phantom hand holding, Olivia’s story about rocks falling from the sky, and probably several others that I missed during both times watching. My favorite nod to both the book and the ’63 film is a cameo from Russ Tamblyn, who played Luke in the original film, as Nell’s psychiatrist, Dr. Montague- the name of another character from the book. Despite the show not being a direct adaptation of the novel, there’s clearly still plenty for book fans to nerd out about.
Michiel Huisman + Timothy Hutton
The Haunting of Hill House not only appeals to book nerds, but theater nerds, because so much of the show feels like a play- unsurprising, as the novel lends itself well to theatrical adaptation. Each of the main characters gets at least one beautifully written monologue in the series; Theo’s monologue toward the end of episode 8 is gut-wrenching, Luke’s eulogy in episode 7 will break my heart every time, and Nell’s farewell to her siblings in the last episode has already become an iconic television moment. Even some of the supporting characters (Mrs. Dudley, played by Annabeth Gish, Poppy Hill, played by Catherine Parker, and Leigh Crain, played by Samantha Sloyan) have some juicy monologues that I kind of want to borrow the next time I audition for any community theater productions. Episode 6 feels especially theatrical thanks not only to some excellent dialogue, but to the nearly 16-minute-long uncut and unedited take at the beginning of the episode. It’s done so seamlessly and so skillfully that I didn’t even notice it during my first watch, and I had to keep reminding myself of it during my second watch.
Obviously such rich dialogue and such demanding scenes wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without a talented cast, and The Haunting of Hill House absolutely has that. The actors playing the five siblings-both in the present and in flashbacks- have such fantastic chemistry, especially Elizabeth Reaser as Shirley and Katie Siegel as Theo (my sister and I have definitely had the “Did you just punch me in the boob!?” fight from episode 8 on more than one occasion). The young actors playing the siblings in flashbacks are unbelievably good, but the standouts for me are Lulu Wilson as Shirley, who had already started making a name for herself in horror before this (in Flanagan’s Ouji: Origin of Evil-which, incidentally, was the first movie I ever reviewed for FlixChatter- and Annabelle: Creation), and Violet McGraw and Julian Hilliard as twins Nell and Luke, who, besides being incredibly cute (Violet’s reading of “Maybe it’s a cotton candy machine!” in episode 2 melts my heart), are given some seriously heavy scenes to perform and do so spectacularly; their nightmare speech to Olivia (Carla Gugino) in episode 9 is especially chilling. Speaking of Carla Gugino, she gives a captivating performance throughout the series; seeing her go from a warm, loving, free-spirited mother to an unhinged wretch is magnificent.
Of course, I can’t end this without talking about the real reason I’m including it in my HallowStream series: the scares. While The Haunting of Hill House has more of a slow burn than other horror series, being half family drama, it is still a ghost story. There are several jump scares throughout the show, but they all feel earned. The hidden ghosts all over the house add a level and tension and unease, because you’re not sure if you saw something. The production design of the enormous, decrepit, labyrinthine mansion is everything you could want in a haunted house. My only real critique is that the CGI can look a little cheap and unimpressive at times, but those moments are few and far between.
Even after watching The Haunting of Hill House twice, I can easily see myself returning to this show, finding new things to appreciate, and still jumping out of my skin at the scary parts. It’s a great one to watch this Halloween season, and I can’t wait to see what Mike Flanagan has planned for The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Have you seen The Haunting of Hill House? Well, what did you think?
Directed by: Alessio Liguori Written by: Daniele Cosci
In Shortcut, five students (Jack Kane as Nolan, Zak Sutcliffe as Reggie, Sophie Jane Oliver as Bess, Zander Emlano as Karl, and Molly Dew as Queenie) are thrown into a nightmare when, after their bus is highjacked my an escaped criminal (David Keyes), they break down at the entrance of an abandoned underground military base, where they are menaced by a terrifying and bloodthirsty creature.
When I first read the description of the movie, it sounded like a rip-off of Jeepers Creepers 2. Fortunately, Shortcut is a unique and genuinely entertaining horror movie. The production design is great. The creature design is cool and creepy; it’s mostly kept in the shadows or shown in quick flashes, keeping the tension high and making it look more realistic. There are a couple full body shots of it where it just looks like a person in a cheap homemade costume, but they’re mercifully brief. The score is eerie, intense, and really helps create an unsettling tone throughout the movie.
Acting-wise, the cast is small but solid. The five main characters are teenagers, and the young actors all do an excellent job with their roles; they’re fun and realistic, and even the ones who are meant to be obnoxious are kind of endearing. There’s some dialogue that’s too cheesy to even pass off as teenagers trying to sound cool, but that’s more the writer’s fault than the actors. Terence Anderson is delightful as Joe, the bus driver, and it’s a shame he’s not in more of the movie. David Keyes as Pedro Minghella, the escaped convict, is spooky, unhinged, and will probably give me nightmares with his performance.
Overall, Shortcut is an enjoyable horror movie, and with the focus being on a group of kids and the film not being too bloody or gory, it would be a good one for young viewers just getting into the genre. Shortcut will be released in both theaters and drive-ins on Friday, September 25th- just in time to kick off the Halloween season.
Shortcut is currently playing in 600+ theaters VOD Release: December 22, 2020
As the blog’s resident horror reviewer, it’s probably obvious that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love all things spooky, and a holiday that celebrates spook is tailor-made for me. Unfortunately, Halloween will probably be a little different this year, what with a raging pandemic going on. No big costume parties, no crowded haunted attractions, no throngs of trick or treaters (okay, we don’t know that for sure yet, but I’m pretty sure there will be significantly fewer trick or treaters this year). What’s a Halloween enthusiast to do under these grim circumstances?
Why not binge some spooky TV shows? Between all of the streaming services available now, there are plenty of shows to get you into the Halloween spirit, from kid-friendly series to darker horror anthologies. From the end of September through the end of October, I will be featuring different horror shows, starting with Netflix’s incredible Haunting of Hill House …
… to prepare for its follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Besides these two, I will be focusing on some lesser-recognized shows, because goodness knows there are already enough articles about American Horror Story and The Walking Dead.
Here are the shows I’ll be covering:
So Weird– An American-Canadian family friendly sci-fi/supernatural TV series
Fear Itself – A series of 13 stand-alone episodes written and directed by well-known horror writers and directors
Lore – A show based on a popular podcast discussing how popular folklore/horror stories are rooted in truth
So cuddle up on your couch with some Halloween candy and your favorite fall beverage (FYI, pumpkin spice lattes are SO much better with half the pumpkin flavor and an extra shot of espresso) and prepare to be scared!
Road rage can be a scary thing. From angry drivers dangerously tailgating or cutting off the targets of their fury to actually pulling weapons on them, you never know when someone is going to snap. That said, I don’t think anyone has seen the level of road rage one man brings to this latest thriller.
In Unhinged, struggling single mom Rachel (Caren Pistorius) angers a driver simply known as The Man (Russell Crowe) after she honks at him for sitting too long at green light. Unfortunately for her, this man has a hairpin temper, a terrifying violent streak, and a willingness to kill anyone in his way.
This is a solid thriller by director Derrick Borte. The tension is high throughout, and having an antagonist who isn’t afraid of getting caught or hurting people with multiple witnesses around makes the stakes feel much higher. There are some exciting car chases, although because so much of the movie takes place on the road, it starts blurring together after a while. There’s some clunky foreshadowing here and there, and the protagonist makes some unrealistically stupid decisions that even suspension of disbelief can’t get me past, but I think most people will watch this movie for the action, not the writing, so it’s mostly forgivable.
While the writing is nothing amazing, the acting from the two leads is excellent. Caren Pistorius is likable, relatable, and brings a good balance of vulnerable and badass. Russell Crowe as The Man proves what a chameleon of an actor he is, and not just appearance-wise; he’s a truly versatile performer, and this role showcases that. I’m bummed that Jimmi Simpson doesn’t get much screen time as Rachel’s best friend and divorce lawyer; I’ve enjoyed his other performances (I loved him in the Stephen King miniseries Rose Red) and was excited to see him as one of the top-billed actors, but I don’t think he has even five minutes of screen time. He does well with what he’s given, though.
While it’s not really my type of movie, Unhinged is enjoyable enough. It’s suspenseful, well-paced, and the acting is good. If you’re a fan of dramatic car chases, this one is worth a watch.