Tag: the exorcist

The Devil and Father Amorth

The Devil and Father Amorth (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Regardless of whether one believes in God, the Devil, demonic possessions and the like, there is no question that William Friedkin’s “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a documentary that lacks an excellent reason to exist. Its opening sequences are telling: the director, who helmed the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist,” revisits locations of various scenes from that film as if the viewers were interested in sightseeing. One gets the impression he is grasping for straws in order to inspire curiosity in us—which is redundant given that his subject is already interesting. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch an actual exorcism?

The woman named “Cristina” is to be exorcised for the ninth time by Father Amorth, a beloved and respected priest in Rome. The exorcism is nothing like the movies we are all familiar with—which I found to be interesting for about three minutes. For instance, the person to be exorcised manages to retain how they look like, nobody is tied up to the bed, holy water does not penetrate the skin like acid. (Holy water isn’t even used.)

Most amusing, at least from my perspective, is the fact that the room is actually filled with loved ones, observing every second of the exorcism, praying along with the main priest and his assistant. They do not seem bothered by the woman’s paroxysms, trance-like demeanor, and guttural voice. The entire showcase lasts about twenty minutes and I felt every second of it. It is repetitive, shot in a flat manner, and rather boring. Mayhap it is because I have been around an exorcism when I was a child.

The picture gets slightly intriguing after the exorcism as Friedkin turns his camera on physicians and asks what they think of Cristina’s exorcism. Friedkin’s goal is painfully obvious: to get a quote that runs along the lines of science not having all the answers. Of course it doesn’t. But it does not automatically mean that the Devil exists and it has in fact possessed Cristina. The way Friedkin manipulates the interview is quite insidious and it left me with an uneasy feeling. I had to remind myself that he is a better filmmaker than this.

It cannot be denied that “The Devil and Father Amorth” offers access into a subject that is mostly kept secret. It is beneficial to capture an actual exorcism on film, regardless of whether or not one believes in its effectiveness as treatment when it comes to spiritual diseases, because it provides us information of what it is, how it is executed, and what it entails. But the way the documentary is put together is quite amateurish at best and overreaching at its worst. There are stretches here when I felt I was watching propaganda.

A Haunted House

A Haunted House (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) buys a new camera to commemorate Kisha (Essence Atkins), his girlfriend, moving into his home. Although moving in together can be a trial for many couples, from getting acclimated to annoying habits of one’s partner to dealing with an increasing lack of excitement due to constantly being around one another, it seems as though they have a more… supernatural problem on their plate. Objects start to go missing or ending up in the wrong place. Kisha is convinced that there is a ghost; Malcolm thinks there is a burglar. It isn’t long until they hire a psychic (Nick Swardson) to investigate.

There is no denying that “A Haunted House” is yet another tired parody of horror movies. This time, it pokes fun of Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” (as well as some of its sequels), William Brent Bell’s “The Devil Inside,” William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” and, to some extent, John Erick Dowdle’s “Quarantine.” It isn’t that it is bereft of laughter. I laughed sporadically. The problem is in the screenplay: it is so desperate for laughs that it is willing to throw anything on the screen. As a result, the comedy is scattered and aimless.

It is too busy burrowing so much from its inspirations that the writers, Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez, neglect to establish a semblance of a story. I was not expecting an original plot–it is a parody after all. A basic foundation of storytelling is not too much to ask for. Instead, it is simply composed of familiar setups: after a character tinkers with a camera in the room, something bizarre starts to happen, and characters react. While the freak-outs are amusing in the beginning, it is exhausted about halfway through, and by the end it is nothing but cheap and annoying.

Much of the humor relies on sex–rather, the awkwardness of the concept. It is immature in a lot of ways, and I believe on purpose, but some work. I had a laughing fit at the scene involving Malcolm pretending to have sex with–not one, not two, but three–stuffed animals as he waits for Kisha getting ready for bed. The several sexual positions combined with Wayans’ enthusiasm to make it very funny prove fruitful. It’s silly, dirty fun, nothing more.

But then it goes for unnecessarily offensive humor. The bodily humor did not bother me so much. Rather, I was offended with its occasional reliance on black stereotypes. At one point black hoodlums–wearing baggy jeans, wife beater shirts, and talking “ghetto”–get invited to the house. They talk big game, every breath a threat. They believe what they are up against is something they can beat up and scare away using their fists. Once they learn that a ghost is involved, they run away screaming like girls. The scene is not at all funny so I wondered why it made the final cut. It is a missed opportunity to subvert certain stereotypes.

Furthermore, it is homophobic at times. Chip, the psychic, hits on Malcolm consistently despite the lead character telling him many times that he is neither interested nor has had any sexual experience with other men. Chip is written so relentlessly creepy that, I think, people who watch the film who are not used to having gay people around them will likely have their fears and stereotypes magnified.

Directed by Michael Tiddes, “A Haunted House” starts off tolerable but devolves into an endurance test. The colorful characters who are allowed by the screenplay to enter the house during the climax is telling if its own scarcity of ideas: punchlines that have been delivered before rehashed into familiar shrill shrieking and clowning around.

Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door (1974)
★★ / ★★★★

Jessica (Juliet Mills) and Robert (Gabriele Lavia), a happy couple with two kids (David Colin Jr., Barbara Fiorini), have a new addition to the family: an unplanned baby. Jessica does not realize she is pregnant until strange things begin to happen to her. When she goes to the doctor (Nino Segurini) for a check-up, it turns out she has been pregnant for three months, at least relative to the rate the baby is growing, not a few weeks like she has anticipated. Meanwhile, Dimitri (Richard Johnson), Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, dies in a car accident. In order to live again, he makes a deal with the devil. Given that Jessica’s baby is born, he will have a second chance at life.

“Chi sei?,” or “Beyond the Door,” directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett, takes inspiration from William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” and Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” but is only marginally successful because it is not able to maintain a high level of tension and horror for after the initial shock.

The scenes shot indoors embody a claustrophobic feel. When the two children are terrorized by walking dolls, shaking beds, and strange noises, I cared about what would happen to them. As former children, we all know how it was like to be scared out of our wits in our very rooms, after reading a scary story or watching a horror film, even if our parents were just right across the hall. However, the scenes shot outdoors are less successful because the menace is mitigated. For instance, when the husband walks around the city of San Francisco, he is randomly serenaded by street performers. Such a thing does not have much room for a movie like this because the light-heartedness takes away the remaining tension the picture has going for it.

Only one outdoor scene works: when the pregnant Jessica takes a random banana peel off the ground and started licking it ravenously, it dares to get a reaction out of us and we know right away that something is very wrong.

Robert does not understand what is happening to his wife. From a medical point of view, no one seems to be able to explain her condition. The filmmakers might have taken the opportunity to make us guess the heavy thoughts running around in his head. Does he contemplate about an abortion? Perhaps turn to someone who has experience with the occult? Focusing on a private space, the mind, by urging us to pay close attention to the character inhabiting a public space might have been an effective way to lure us into the story instead of us being reduced to wait for the next bizarre occurrence.

I was impressed with the artists’ use of make-up. When Jessica starts to become possessed and talk in a very deep voice, the make-up makes the performance more believable. As the devil gains more control over her body, the make-up makes it look like the character is in the early stages of decomposition.

“Beyond the Door” might have been an experience rather than a worn facsimile if the screenplay has had more original ideas to work with. Taking inspiration from other works is good if done right and consistently, but to be a staple requires taking risks and becoming an example. “Chi sei?” does not do either. It contains two or three solid scares but the rest are regurgitated goo.

The Rite

The Rite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), son of a mortician, decided to go to seminary school because his family could not afford a four-year college education. His plan was to send his resignation after four years because he had serious doubts about his faith. When he did, a concerned priest (Toby Jones) sent him to Rome to attend an exorcism class led by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). But this only increased Michael’s doubt as he brought up the questionable methods done by the Catholic church in terms of dealing with people who claimed to have been possessed. Avid in psychology, he claimed that demon possession had classic signs of known psychiatric disorders. Since seeing is supposedly believing, Father Xavier sent Michael to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a practicing exorcist in Rome. Inspired by a true story and based on a book by Matt Baglio, “The Rite” took a more realistic path in tackling the issue of exorcism, a practice undoubtedly still happening today. It was great to watch because it wasn’t afraid to acknowledge how exorcism was portrayed in movies. As Father Lucas puts it, when it came to exorcism, people tend to expect “spinning heads and pea soup,” referencing William Friedkin’s horror classic “The Exorcist,” but that wasn’t reality. The reality was people would come in for multiple sessions and a priest would try to exorcise the demon by attempting to find its name and getting control of it. A certain level of the unexplained was there, such as the supposed possessed person knowing certain things about another, but an uncanny level of insight could potentially be explained via an observation of behavioral responses and first impressions. I liked its approach and I was fascinated. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in the devil, I wish the film had spent more time in the classroom because it elucidated and dispelled common myths about the practice. But the picture also had elements of the supernatural. As Michael got deeper into his experiences with Father Lucas, he began to experience horrifying possible hallucinations like a demon taking on a form of a mule and hearing his dead father’s voice on the phone. He also had dreams about the time he saw his father cleaning up after his mother’s corpse. Was Michael experiencing symptoms of a mental illness? Or were the hallucinations and nightmares triggered by guilt? Guilt of leaving his father, guilt of using the seminary school, and guilt of continuing to deny that what he had seen could be real. Directed by Mikael Håfström, “The Rite” wasn’t a typical film about exorcisms because it was willing to laugh at itself and its characters. Since it was more grounded in reality, when the supernatural was thrown at us, the scares and creepiness were all the more effective.

The Changeling

The Changeling (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★

Initially, I thought this was going to be a ghost story like the truly horrific “The Shining” (which I was excited for), but toward the end it ended up being more like “The Ring” (which I wasn’t as excited for). Directed by Peter Medak, “The Changeling” was about a man who loves to play the piano (George C. Scott) and his grief for losing his wife and daughter. After about four months of their death, with the help of a friend (Trish Van Devere), he decided to move in to a creepy historical mansion to work on his music and to move on from the tragedy. However, the house would not let him work or heal because it would make strange noises, play the piano when he left the room, open the door ever so slowly as he composed music, and throw his daughter’s ball down the stairs… even after he seemingly got rid of it. Those truly scary moments (aided by a haunting soundtrack) made this film worth watching. However, I did not enjoy the last third as much because it reminded me of “The Ring” (even though I enjoyed that movie). Granted, this was made first but the whole well being buried under a house was too much of a distraction for me so it definitely took me out of the experience. If I were to pick a favorite scene in this picture, it would hands down has to be the séance scene when Scott, the medium, and others finally made contact with the ghost. It was done in such a scary manner which reminded me of the exorcism scene in “The Exorcist.” I tried not to blink in fear that if I closed my eyes, something would suddenly appear in a dark corner in the living room (I saw the movie with all the lights out). I’ve heard all too often that this is not known by many, especially my generation. I think it definitely deserves to be seen, especially the fans of horror films, because it was able to generate genuine scares without sacrificing the story. This is a very good haunted house picture that could have been as good as “The Shining” if it had been longer (perhaps a tour of the deeply atmospheric house?) and the whole bit about the well was eliminated. But then again I’m just being picky about the difference between “good” and “great” (to warn those who are expecting “The Shining”-level filmmaking). Don’t get me wrong, this is still a must-see.

The Unborn

The Unborn (2009)
★ / ★★★★

This horror movie was so bad, I didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry after the final scene. Odette Yustman suddenly starts having nightmares about a boy who obviously wants something from her. It starts off that way but eventually, the evil that was once in her dreams begins to manifest itself in reality, affecting her relationships with her best friend (Meagan Good), her boyfriend (Cam Giganget) and her own sanity. I am not exactly sure how much I should give away because it tried to be about a lot of things but ultimately became about nothing. One minute the lead character was running around (literally–her jogging scenes felt like forever and a day) moping about her mother and the next she was asking people to give her an exorcism. The so-called twists did not make sense to me at all. While it did try to make homage to horror greats such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” it felt contrived and there were definitely some parts where I thought it was merely stealing ideas instead of using such ideas as a template and taking the story to the next level. I did enjoy some creepy images but the suspense was simply not there. When the obligatory “jumpy” scenes arrived, they felt uninspired because it was all sharp film cuts and loud soundtrack to me. When I watch a horror picture, I want my heart to pound like mad and anticipate what’s going to happen next. With “The Unborn,” written and directed by David S. Goyer, I felt like each scene was a punishment I didn’t deserve. I think one of the main problems is the script. The dialogue absolutely killed me. I actually lost count how many times the lead character said, “I know this is going to sound crazy but…” I don’t know if that’s worse or cheesy lines like “I don’t think you’re crazy, I just think you’re hormonal.” I mean, come on. Hasn’t Goyer seen the “Scream” franchise? If you ask me, I think he’s asking to have a bad movie with that kind of writing. Obviously, I’m saying to skip this one because I’ve seen it all before. If you’re interested in a modern exorcism picture, rent the superior “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” instead. That one truly gave me the creeps.


Ghostbusters (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★

This movie provided me bucketloads of nostalgia because I used to watch the cartoons when I was younger. Starring and written by Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Raymond Stantz) and Harold Ramis (Dr. Egon Spengler), “Ghostbusters” is really fun to watch because of its originality and bona fide sense of humor. The film also stars Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddmore (an eventual Ghostbuster), Sigourney Weaver as their first client and Rick Moranis as Weaver’s mousy neighbor. I was impressed that each of them had something to contribute to the comedy as well as moving the story forward. I usually don’t like special and visual effects in comedies because the filmmakers get too carried away and neglect the humor, but I enjoyed those elements here because all of it was within the picture’s universe. Although the movie does embrace its campiness, it’s not completely ludicrious. In fact, since the Ghostbusters are part of the Psychology department, I was happy that the script managed to use the psychological terms and ideas in a meaningful way such as the idea of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. I also liked the fact that it had time to respectfully reference (or parody?) to “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Although the humor is much more consistent in the first half, the second half is where it manages to show its intelligence such as the fusing of ideas from gods of various cultures and Christianity’s armageddon. Without the actors providing a little something extra (such as Murray’s hilarious sarcasm), this would’ve been a typical comedic spookfest. The special and visual effects may have been dated but it still managed to entertain me from start to finish because the film is so alive with ideas and anecdotes with universal appeal.

The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

I was surprised by how much this film was grounded in reality even though the trailers sold it off as a typical “based on a true story” demonic possession. Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan star as the parents who choose to move in a house with a creepy history because their son’s (Kyle Gallner) cancer treatment facility is nearby. It’s not long until spirits start to get themselves known to Gallner’s character in truly horrifying manners. I really admired the first thirty minutes of this horror flick because things that most people would consider as supernatural are things that can happen to cancer patients going through various therapies (i.e. hallucinations). I wish Peter Cornwell, the director, decided to keep straddling the line between science and the supernatural because it’s very reminiscent of “The Exorcist.” To me, the closer a horror film is to reality, its resonance after I leave the theater is amplified many more times as opposed to a horror movie that’s so unbelievable to the point where it loses its power. Unfortunately, this movie is the latter. Another frustration that I had with it was the film’s use of soundtrack to cue that something terrifying is happening on screen. I was really taken out of the moment whenever the soundtrack would be heard; most of the time, I don’t like outside cues to tell me how I should be feeling especially when the obvious is being shown on the screen. Its scares would’ve been more effective if there was less jarring creepy sounds–let the creaks of each footstep or a body hitting furnitures do all the work. After all, this is a horror film about a house with a questionable past (in the least) so the-less-the-better technique could’ve done wonders. As for its acting, I thought everyone did pretty good but I felt like Gallner was holding back. I’ve seen him in several television shows and movies so I know that he could’ve done more. Still, “The Haunting in Connecticut” had three or four solid scares so I’m giving it a mediocre rating. However, it would’ve been so much better if the booming soundtrack during scares was kept at a minimum or was not integrated at all.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist (1973)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When I was younger, whenever I’d pretend to be an archeologist in the backyard, my mom would warn me about potentially digging up evil spirits. Knowing that dead people are buried in the Earth, of course I’d get scared and immediately stop digging holes in the ground and watch television or read a book instead. It recently occured to me that she referenced this film to invoke that fear of “evil spirits” (most Filipinos are superstitious). In any case, even though I don’t believe in God or the Devil (though I don’t reject the possibility of their existence; if I were to believe in a sort of “God” it wouldn’t be Jesus/Christ, it’ll be a general “higher power” in the universe), this film really got to me because it is so well-told and it is difficult for me to dispel the horrific images from my head after watching it. I’ve seen this movie about four times and it never fails to give me the creeps. I always find something new in it: whether it’s a demonic face popping up during the most intense scenes when a character would enter a dark room or something in the script that would hint that what we are watching is not a supernatural story but a hyperbole of a psychological disorder told through a medium who believes in demonic possessions.

This film has stood the test of time because science and faith (generally two opposing ideas) are fused so well, that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference because we’re so invested in the characters and our own questions of what’s really going on or what’s going to happen next. Ellen Burstyn is heartbreaking as the mother/actress who really loves her daughter (Linda Blair) but doesn’t know what to do when her daughter starts behaving strangely. One minute she’s strong and the next she’s vulnerable; some of her best scenes are her interactions with the priest/psychiatrist (Jason Miller) because she’s able to express what she’s really thinking and feeling. Linda Blair did a tremendous job as the possessed daughter. I still don’t know how she found it in herself to act like a demon. Most people say that the make-up did most of the work but if one were to look closely, it has nothing to do with the make-up. If one were to compare her early scenes where she was sweet and friendly to her later scenes where she was cussing and grimacing at other people’s misery, one should be able to conclude that she’s bringing something from within.

William Friedkin, the director, neatly (and organically) converged three stories: Burstyn’s plight to find a cure for her daughter’s illness, Miller’s relationship with his terminally ill mother, and Max von Sydow who is both a priest and an archeologist (who happens to dig up an ancient relic with the help of some locals in the first scene). The director is smart enough to highlight the duality of these characters: mother/actress, priest/psychiatrist, priest/archeologist, daughter/demon. And not just the duality in the characters but also the duality of “the” explanation: science/religion. Moreover, I have to say that this picture has the best use of lighting and use of color in any horror movie I have ever seen. I noticed that in the first third of the film, warm colors are often used like red, orange, and yellow. As the film’s subject matter got darker and more manacing (granted, the movie started off pretty dark), we get to see colder colors more often like blue and purple. As for the lighting, I love the scenes in the house when a character would be in self-denial (or lying to someone else) and how their faces, or parts of their faces, would be covered in darkness. Also, in the most intense scenes, it feels like something is always looming in the corner because of the way a certain object would project its shadows on the wall. Small things like that makes this film so special, worth discussing, and rewatching.

When people put “The Exorcist” at the top of their scariest horror films list, for me, it’s not a case of jumping on the bandwagon. It really is that scary due to its subject matter and its craft. There are a plethora of memorable scenes such as the spider walk sequence down the stairs, when the demon/Captain Howdy would try to find and take advantage of the priests’ weaknesses, Blair’s 360-degree head turns, Burstyn’s intense experiences when she enters dark rooms–all of it are effective because of both its shock value and (arguably) sense of realism. Despite one’s theology (or lack thereof), it’s difficult to dismiss this film because faith is not the only factor that drives it forward. If people are to stand back and look at the overall product, it’s really about our fears of the unknown–things of which that both religion and science combined are not enough to answer.