61 Days of Halloween: Dead Souls (2012)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Dead Souls (2012)

I have frequently argued that when I choose to watch a TV movie that does not preclude it from inclusion in BAM Award consideration. However, on occasion some TV movies, I must admit, will have me shy away for a while. This is one I regretted letting slip. I think this were late 2012 re-airings of this Chiller original film but I let it slip owing to the fact that I was bogged down in my Year-End Sprint. I wish I hadn’t. However, this film is very much alive for my favorite older films of 2013 list.

The synopsis on the onscreen guide was thankfully bereft of information. With a setup up kind of like this on the menu: John returns to his birthplace to learn the secrets of his biological family; there’s a lot of blanks left to fill in.

The film starts strong from the very start. What you see is a shocking series of events, including crucifixions (easily cringe-inducing for me) as well as intimations of some kind of cult activity. However, the exact nature of what is going on is a bit obscured. Thus, we the audience are placed much in the same place as the protagonist, discovering along with him. That’s a good place to be in.

What this film does that’s slightly off the beaten path is that it plays out like a haunted house/ghost story, but also has an element of occult building and that puts it’s own spins on the events.

It leaves its protagonist John (Jesse James) alone much of the time. That’s good for character work, especially when there’s an expressive actor in tow. James has a natural sensitivity that exudes off the screen and allows him to carry the vehicle quite easily. He effortlessly handles the notes he has to play in the film: thoughtful, quiet, scared – and, upon learning what he deals with, feeling an emotional pull to the place and his family he’d never known. He does brilliant work here.

The arc of Emma (Magda Apanowicz) is also a benefit to this film. Whereas, she seems like she’ll be a bothersome and unnatural guest much like the one in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, she softens, becomes a sidekick and co-combatant with the protagonist.

By the conclusion of the film not only are the blanks left un-filled by the beginning filled in but a new spin on the occult has been portrayed. Not to mention that the start is mirrored, completed and filled in by that point. This is a horror film that’s a little different and ought not be overlook, and I’m kind of kicking myself for letting it slip through the cracks last year.

61 Days of Halloween- Amityville II: The Possession

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Amityille II: The Possession

Jack Magner in Amityille II: The Possession (Orion)

While it may have been very tempting after the great flashes to tell the tale that made the Amityville house infamous on this occasion the result is comically bad and it was a tale better left untold at least the way it transpires here. There still is potential here that is completely untapped.

Now while in the first installment you could draw comparisons to The Exorcist there was definitely a tenuous but definite line of delineation separating the two. Mainly being that the priest was never heavily involved in the families plight and couldn’t be. Oh yeah, that and there was no exorcism performed.

There are other issues though. One of the talking points of the original film was about how the patriarch of that family looked like the previous assassin. Now this film doesn’t establish any prior history with the house so we are left to assume, especially by the construct of the family and who the killer is, that this is a prequel. So not only are the actors poorly cast in terms of appearance and ability but it totally changes the series by having someone trying to save his immortal soul.

So you have all that going against this film as if the idea of combining a haunted house film and an exorcism plot in a bifurcated tale wasn’t hard enough to pull off. You also lose the subtlety that the first film had and you wonder why the family spends even one night there.

There is also not one character who remains likable through the whole film and but one scene where the struggle of our protagonist/antagonist is truly felt. There’s also a random incident of incest.

To continue listing this film’s faults would be pointless except to say that it is a painful and nearly interminable experience. If you make it through to the end you’ll find some very humorous effects work that was likely not intended that way, other than that it is best avoided.

2/10

61 Days of Halloween- The Amityille Horror (1979)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Amityille Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityille Horror (American International Pictures)

What is interesting to note, for what it’s worth is that both the 1979 and 2005 versions of this film have the same score on the IMDb. This score seemingly ignores the biggest difference between the two which is that the original runs 120 minutes and the remake runs 90 and that running time is put to very good use. Not only do the incidents mount and come with greater frequency it allows for more narrative threads to be developed to support what we all know to be true.

What people are likely to hold against it might be that not enough happens but mind you that there are many incidents and there certainly seems to be more of a crescendo than last year’s (at the time of this writing) runaway hit Paranormal Activity which may be the slowest moving horror film ever crafted.

Another rarity that makes this film one worth seeing is that it has always been difficult to attract names to tales of horror or the supernatural but this film boasts James Brolin, who at the time was already an Emmy-winner, Margot Kidder who was just coming off Superman and Rod Steiger who had already won an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night. This is in the same decade as The Exorcist which boasted Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow. These are the kinds of casts you can’t find anymore and the kind you need to convey a tale in which terror lives in the characters’ minds even more than it does in reality.
 
The score which opens the film and recurs a few times is reminiscent of certain Giallo films. The score combined with the quick flashbacks at the beginning to illustrate the house’s past are the perfect way to set the table.

I am not going to say this is the quintessential haunted house movie because that would be a disservice to films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House which deserve recognition, however, it does take a different approach than those and ushers in the age of suburban terror and perils of home ownership into the genre.

While occasionally you do get some bad looking blood, which is such a pet peeve of mine. There is the compelling case of the priest trying to convince people of what he experienced. The nun who was violently ill on the premises, then subplots that run longer like the obsession with woodcutting due to the cold; Jodie, the “imaginary” friend, The dog digging at the wall in the basement and the police sergeant sensing something is amiss and tailing the family and the priest. All this offers many more layers than you usually get in this type of tale.

Lastly, the film also employs titles very effectively as not many do. It can be an extremely effective when used well and this film does on more than one occasion.The Amityville Horror definitely has a lot to offer the horror connoisseur.

8/10