One Sequel Worth Rewatching

Sequels are always a risky gamble, especially in the horror genre. In the case of The Exorcist, it was always going to be impossible for any sequel to be as ground-breaking as the original 1973 film. No film prior had shown such unspeakable evil befall a 13-year-old girl, from head spinning, to vomiting, to levitation, to strings of curses that would make a sailor blush. I’ve always felt that the real horror in The Exorcist occurs in the first act, when Regan (Linda Blair) talks about her friend Captain Howdy and claims to hear scratching in the walls of her bedroom. Those unseen elements and that creeping dread that something is not right still unnerve me whenever I re-watch the film.

The film was followed by the god-awful Exorcist II: The Heretic, one of the worst sequels in horror history, two prequels, and a recent TV series by Fox that was canceled after just two seasons. Recently, I re-watched The Exorcist III: Legion (1990) in preparation for watching and reviewing the Irish horror flick The Devil’s Doorway. The third film in the franchise, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the novel The Exorcist and its sequel Legion, is really the only sequel in the franchise deserving of attention. It is drastically different than the original, but in some ways, far more haunting, philosophical, and interesting.

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When speaking about The Exorcist III, Blatty once said that he was more interested in creating “creaks and shadows” than the “head-spinning” elements of the original film. Set in Georgetown 15 years after the original film, Legion follows the story of hard-boiled detective Kinderman (George C. Scott), who is jaded from years of investigating murders. The only thing he’s sure of is that evil does indeed exist but it has no supernatural elements; rather, it exits in the cruel actions of humans. At one point, he tells his friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) that God can’t exist because there is too much suffering in the world and humans are too imperfect, prone to self-destruction and diseases, such as cancer.

Kinderman is called to investigate sacrilegious murders in Georgetown, which have some connection to his friend Damien Karras (Jason Miller), the priest from the first film who saves Regan by asking the demon to possess him in the film’s closing minutes, before lunging out the window and falling down a set of stairs.

Jason Miller returns in Legion and stars as the mysterious Patient X, who looks like Father Karras, but how can that be, Kinderman wonders, since Father Karrass died 15 years earlier. Miller’s role is juxtaposed with that of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who possessed the body of Karras and spent years regenerating his brain. Dourif, most famous for voicing Chucky, is phenomenal in this film. He verbally spars with Kinderman, recounting, in gruesome detail, the murders he committed, and then speaking of his “friend,” “the master,” who made all of the murders possible. Dourif is given long monologues when he’s on-screen. Spittle flies when he talks, and his eyes become wide and impassioned.

Initially, Miller was not available to shoot the film because he was on the West Coast, but once he returned East, the studio insisted that he be included in the film. Blatty did not want Miller in the film, and his director’s cut only features Dourif. That said, the film is much better for having Miller in it, whose sunken, sad eyes speak to the torment of Father Karras’ possession.

Unlike the original film, much of the horror happens off-screen, the “creaks and shadows” that Blatty mentioned. Most of the murders are recounted either through the Gemini Killer’s monologues or through Kinderman’s detective work. When the viewer is about to witness a murder happen on screen, the camera often pulls away and we’re only given the gory details once Kinderman arrives on the scene later and gathers the facts and evidence. This is effective because it leaves much to the imagination.

The Exorcist III also contains one of the greatest jump scares in cinema in the last third of the film. Without giving too much away, I’ll merely state that it involves a nurse and the angel of death. You’ll know it when you see it.

Blatty didn’t want an exorcism to occur at all in the film, but the studio demanded it. The exorcism occurs in the final act, and it feels rather silly and ham-handed compared to the rest of the film, which relies on atmosphere, mood, and tone to establish its unsettling horror. Legion varies so much from its original predecessor because of all it doesn’t show and the way it uses light and shadow. The scenes when Kinderman is alone in a cell with Karras/the Gemini Killer, specifically the use of light and shadow, are incredibly effective.

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Patient X (Jason Miller) and Kinderman (George C. Scott)

Had the awful Exorcist II never been released, maybe The Exorcist III would have done better at the box office and garnered the attention it deserves. At least it currently has a cult following and has generally aged well. Miller and Dourif’s performances alone, coupled with the philosophical questions posed about the nature of evil, make it one of the best horror sequels.

 

 

 

A Quiet Place: Masterfully Suspenseful Mainstream Horror

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John Krasinski is not the first name that comes to mind in the horror genre. Yet, A Quiet Place, which he directed, is one of the most memorable mainstream horror films of the last few years. The film stars Krasinski as Lee and his real life wife, Emily Blunt, as Evelyn. Together, they exist in a post-apocalyptic world and try to protect their children from monsters that are blind but have a heightened sense of sound.

The film handles suspense masterfully, especially in the first 15 minutes, when the family hunts an abandoned store for medicine. Evelyn needs pills for her sick son, and she slowly has to turn the bottles on the shelf to read the labels. One little sound, and she knows her family will be meat for the monsters. After exiting the store, the family walks barefoot on trails of sand so their footsteps don’t echo and alert the monsters. You hope that all of them will make it home.

The rest of the film is relentless in its use of suspense, sound, and silence. Any wrong move, like the creak of a floorboard or a scream, will doom the family. The monsters, meanwhile, break the silence with their screeches and loud thumps when they invade the family’s home.

Like any good horror film, A Quiet Place serves as a metaphor for a larger issue: parenting and the dread that you can’t protect children from a world that can be unbearably cruel. At one point, Evelyn asks Lee, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?”. Blunt and Krasinski are stellar on screen together, especially in one of the early scenes where they share earbuds, cling to each other, and slow dance. You root for this family and want them to survive, but their pained facial expressions and the threat of a monster that is always lurking in the cornstalks surrounding their farmhouse make you wonder if they’ll last until morning.

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Emily Blunt’s performance as Evelyn is fantastic. She has one of the most terrifying birthing scenes I’ve ever seen on screen. It is visceral and jarring. Her character gradually transitions to a mother who will do whatever needs to be done to protect her children. In a movie that relies so much on silence and has so little dialogue, Blunt pulls off much of her performance through body language and facial expressions.

Krasinski has a mainstream horror hit on his hands. He may be new to the genre, but he certainly understands that character development and suspense that doesn’t rely too heavily on gore are elements that make a good horror film. Blunt, meanwhile, is emotional and powerful. A Quiet Place is the best mainstream horror film of 2018 thus far.

A Poem about Zombies!

Over the last few months, I’ve written a series of poems about horror movies. This came about because I am working on a horror literature and film adaptation course, so for a month or two, I revisited a number of film theory articles and horror movies. All of this reading rubbed off on my poetry and gave me a new project. The poems have also given me the space to deal with the age of Trump in my own way, through writing. Horror, when done well, can be a metaphor for national or global anxieties and fears. I have a personal connection to the genre, too. Growing up, I watched old horror movies with my dad, and it was a chance to bond with him, especially since I didn’t like sports. This poem is about Night of the Living Dead, one of his favorites. Most haunting to me about the film is the last two minutes.

Check out the poem, published by Gravel, here.

It Follows and Suburban Fears of the Other

I’m straying a little bit from the usual poet-oriented posts to offer some criticism on the horror film It Follows, one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a few years. If you’ve seen the film, I hope that you enjoy this read.

John Carpenter, director of the original Halloween, The Thing, and other iconic horror movies, states in the documentary American Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue that American horror movies are very much about our fear of “the other,” something or someone different that will threaten our tribe. His own movies very much deal with this theme. In his remake of the The Thing, the monster is a shape shifter/parasite/alien that infects a group of scientists working in Alaska. In Halloween, Michael Myers terrorizes a quiet, sleepy suburban Illinois town and picks off teenagers one by one.

It Follows is very much a movie that plays with the trope that Carpenter mentioned, fears of “the other,” and like Halloween, it raises questions about where the other comes from. The opening shot establishes the setting and resembles some of the early shots in Halloween in that we see big houses and tree-lined streets, thus establishing the setting of what should be a safe suburban town. However, in both films that sense of security that suburbia should provide, specifically keeping bad things out, is shattered. In the opening scene of Halloween, the initial camera sequence is from Michael Myers’s point of view, as he roams through the rooms of his house, picks up a butcher knife and kills his sister as she’s having sex. In those first few moments of the film, however, the viewer has no idea that the killer is a child, a young Michael Myers, until a few shots later, when the camera angle shifts to third person, and we see him standing on the lawn, dressed in a clown costume, holding a bloody knife. Terror doesn’t come from the outside, but rather, it comes from the inside. About 20-30 minutes into the film, once Michael Myers is grown up and escapes from a mental hospital, he returns to his hometown to kill off teenagers.

After the opening shot of tree-lined streets and nice houses in It Follows, the viewer then sees a teenager, Annie, run out of her house, screaming, before she drives to a beach,where she leaves a panicked message for her father.  As the film progresses and moves towards the opening shot, we learn the source of her terror.

Early in the film, the protagonist, Jay, has sex in  a car with a boy older than her. He goes by the name of Hugh, but viewers later learn that his real name is Jeff. At first, little is known about him, but it can be assumes that he’s from the rougher side of the tracks, since he tells Jay that he doesn’t want to go back to his place because he doesn’t want to show her where he lives. After they have sex, he tells her that he passed on something to her, which he inherited from his last sexual partner. He then tells her that this thing can come in any form and can be someone she knows or someone she doesn’t know, but if it touches her, she’ll die.

During the rest of the film, Jay spends her time fleeing this creature in various forms, a creature that only she can see. She and her friends also visit Detroit, and in one scene, the friends chat about how their parents always told them to stay away from the city and stay in the suburbs. During their attempts to locate Jeff in the city, the viewer sees shots of bombed out buildings, which reinforces the idea of “the other,” that everything bad came from the city, including the man that Jay encountered and the sexual partner who passed down the evil to him.

However, the friends eventually learn that Jeff was not from the city, but rather, he attended high school in the suburbs, and they find him hiding out at his parents’s safe suburban home. He faked his name, though, and rented a house in the city to lure in a young woman and pass down the evil. His true identity is important, however, because it shows that the real terror lurks in the suburbs, not in the inner-city. It didn’t come from outside, but rather from within.

In this regard, the nameless, shape-shifting villain in It Follows is similar to other iconic horror movie villains, including Michael Myers, a boy from the suburbs, who, for seemingly no reason, kills his sister as a boy and returns to his hometown to commit additional murders. The evil is similar to Freddy Kreuger, a child molester who was burned to death by the townspeople and then returns as a supernatural entity to kill, in dreams, the children of the suburban parents who burned him alive. Even in Poltergeist, the evil does not come from outside, but from within. A family moves into a home in a development, and are terrorized by poltergeists. About mid-way through the film, the father learns that the development was built on an Indian burial ground, thus the cause of the haunting.

It Follows also gives a nod to another horror trope: sex and consequence. In the Friday the 13th movies, any teenagers who have sex are murdered by Jason. In American Dreams in Red, White, and Blue, Jason is even compared to a vicious, Old Testament kind of figure, eager to butcher anyone who strays from the straight and moral path. It is indeed significant that the creature in It Follows is passed down through sex. However, It Follows is a little more liberal in its treatment of teenage sex, or perhaps it lies somewhere in the middle of Friday the 13th and David Cronenberg’s 1970s film Shivers, which is about blood parasites that make their hosts hyper-sexual. There are some scenes of It Follows that resemble Shivers. In one of the final scenes, Jay and her friends hide out at a public, indoor pool. They hope to trap the creature in water and electrocute it, using lamps, TVs, and other appliances they lugged from their suburban homes. The pool itself and the colors in the shot, especially all of the yellow, resemble the closing scene in Shivers, when the creature/parasite infects the last person who doesn’t have it, and essentially, the film ends in an orgy, thus making a statement that sexual desires are impossible to avoid.

That scene in It Follows is different, however. Jay doesn’t succumb to the shape-shifting creature. Instead, she resists it, fights it, and flees from it yet again. Furthermore, throughout the film, Jay’s childhood friend, Paul, pleads with her to have sex with him to pass it on. She refuses, however, especially after she has sex with another character and the creature kills him. Ultimately, though, Jay does have sex with Paul, and the closing shot shows them walking down their suburban street, holding hands, while someone walks feet behind them. It’s not clear, however, if the person following them is the creature in yet another form, or someone normal. The viewer is left to guess.

It Follows makes a middle-ground statement regarding sex. Jay and Paul have sex and aren’t killed off Jason-style. Even Jeff doesn’t die, despite his confession that he contracted the evil after a one-night stand with a woman he met in the bar. However, it can be interpreted that only once Jay has sex that is meaningful, with someone who cares about her, is she safe. She survives and is no longer running by the closing shot.

In many ways, It Follows is about the old classic horror trope of the other. In the film, the other takes the shape of the inner-city creeping into the suburbs, an American fear that stems back to the great white flight of the 1950s and 1960s and has returned in the age of Occupy, a bankrupt Detroit, and class inequality/racial tensions. But the other also takes the shape of teenage sex. The creature literally stalks characters because it is passed down through sex. Yet, in the end, Jay has sex, and survives. So sex becomes less threatening.

There are other aspects of the film to note. Its music and even some of its set design/displays, such as the lamps, station wagons, and even a typewriter, resemble 1960s/1970s America, a time period that was iconic for American horror film. Yet, the film is supposed to be set in present day Detroit ‘burbs. There is a wonderful scene too, when Jay is sitting in a college classroom, listening to a professor read Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a poem all about “the cry of the occasion,” sex, the consequences of sex, and death. Prufrock ponders sex, women, and fears that he is getting old. Like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” It Follows is a film that analyzes the consequences of sex and how our past partners shape us and carry us to the present. We can’t run from it or avoid it. It follows.