Very, Very Late Finally! Friday Halloween: The Conjuring

Why Finally? My attraction to spooky stuff has existed as long as I have; that’s why, at the age of eight or nine, I was already familiar with the work of psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, on whose real-life adventures The Conjuring movies are based. (A bigger mystery is how I made it through seven years of Baptist school pursuing this stuff without being burned as a witch or, more prosaically, getting booted for Satanism.) Perhaps that seems too scary for a kid, but it was comforting, as I lay in bed at night playing the popular game “Dad Snoring? Or Bloodthirsty Demon-Thing Growling?” to know the boogeymen had opponents and the living had defenders.

On the other hand, I am also a big fat coward, so I suspected The Conjuring might be something of an endurance test.

Hey, look, an opening shot of the fractured eyeball of Annabelle, The Possessed Doll Of Evil! Maybe I’m clairvoyant too!

[shudders]
No: I mean “why,” when you said it would be done for Halloween, are we “finally” getting The Conjuring sometime after Thanksgiving Christmas Valentine’s Day St. Patrick’s Day Easter Memorial Day the NEXT Halloween?

Among other, more personal reasons, I didn’t want to screenshot the damned doll. Happy?

The Premise: Famed psychic investigators/demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are called upon to help the Perron family with their newly acquired haunted house.

I’m more cynical about the Warrens as an adult, but must admit I enjoyed seeing two of my childhood heroes depicted in a movie.

Annabelle, the most horrific thing in the film by a large margin, is a mere side plot as she breaks out of the Warrens’ Friday the 13th: The Series-like storeroom and menaces their daughter. The outline of the main story will be familiar to anyone who ever caught The Amityville Horror on cable: the fixer-upper that turns into the fixer of little red wagons. And like those other movies, it’s easy to see how, given a sufficiently large space and a large family, communication breakdown can delay seeking assistance for even the most aggressive haunting.

Kids can be creepy even without haunted sleepwalking, but it certainly helps.

Eventually, the family’s matriarch Carolyn becomes the focus of the activity, and as you might imagine, things get worse before they get better.

The Verdict: Mixed. As a haunted-house movie, The Conjuring is effective to the point of creeping dread, even when characters are just walking between rooms. The casting is also superb: in addition to great performances by Wilson and Farmiga, Lili Taylor is perfect as Carolyn, the terrorized wife and mother who eventually takes on the darkness. My only objection is to the ultimate source of the haunting, which struck me as a tad goofy. Given that the movie is (depending how one feels about the Warrens) based on a true story/”based” on a “true” “story,” that may have been unavoidable. Certainly it’s not enough to stop me from checking out the sequel, and maybe even the Annabelle movies. No later than 3 p.m. and in strong daylight, of course.

Might go well with: Anything you can nibble without taking your eyes off the screen, House Hunters, NO DOLLS.

 

Next time: The recent second season of  a Netflix series. Nope, not that one.

BECAUSE TIME IS OUT OF WHACK—Found-Again… Tuesday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christm… Valentine’s Day With Fright Night (1985)

Mom’s treatment is done! and I am finally back at the helm of the Omelet. I see somebody somewhere was actually reading the Highlander posts in my absence, which is thrilling for at least one of us!

But we have unfinished business: I promised you Sarandon. I promised you vampire(s). I promised you an outpouring of praise for what may be my all-time favorite horror film—and if I didn’t, brace yourselves. I wrote the first part of this before rewatching and before my schedule got rearranged, so with a few corrections, this should do just fine for a heart-based holiday:

And here we are. I can’t think of any better way to ring out this year celebrate Valentine’s Day than with Fright Night—one of my favorite vampire movies, one of my favorite horror movies, and one of my favorite movies full stop. I won’t pretend this one is really “found again.” It’s not even an every-other-year creepy pleasure like CandymanFright Night is, not to put too fine a pointy fang on it, The Good Stuff.

The Premise: Angsty, amiable teen doofus Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale, who like one of last week the last review’s stars was in Herman’s Head) likes making out with his girlfriend Amy while the late-night horror show Fright Night plays in the background. His sexual frustration is the least of his troubles when he starts to suspect his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, perfectly cast), might be a vampire.

When his weird friend Ed can’t provide enough protective vampire lore, Charlie seeks out the Fright Night show’s host, Peter Vincent. Instead of Van Helsing, however, Vincent is more Peter Cushing by way of Elvira, a washed-up actor annoyed by Charlie’s request for help and terrified when he realizes there really is a vampire. Once Jerry discovers they’re on to him, he begins to prey on Charlie’s friends, and Charlie and Peter must fight the vampire and save Amy from the extremely sexy clutches of a fiend.

I’m going to blow the “Verdict” section on this one. If you for some reason haven’t seen Fright Night, recently or ever, you should do that. Don’t even finish reading this. It’s that good. (And if you’re squeamish like me, it’s not even particularly gory until the end; I suspect a lot of the R rating was for boobs and swears.)

There is so much to like about this movie:

  • Fright Night is a crucial link between subgenres of vampire film, in that Jerry  is both a suave fanged seducer in the Christopher Lee mold and a gnarly* bat-monster in the style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other screen vamps who came after Fright Night’s 1985 release. (That the plot involves a Hammer-horror-style actor coming up against gritty reality indicates that this duality is intentional, making the whole thing even better.)
  • Similarly, the mortal characters are all recognizable ’80s stock movie people, but so well-realized they rise above it. Stereotypical “horny teen” Charlie ends up worrying more about his math grade—and, you know, the vampire—than he does about getting laid. Charlie’s mother is to some extent written as a typical checked-out working parent, but it’s not ennui: it’s that this single mother has just started working nights and isn’t at her best for the duration of the film. And the quirky friend, “Evil” Ed, gets the most wrenching scenes in the movie. Fright Night is a little like Pumpkinhead, I think; if you go a while between viewings, the genre starts to blot out how nuanced and generally good the characters are. (It’s also nice that they look and dress like real people—looking at you, enjoyable-but-not-at-this-level remake.)

  • The characters often act the way you’d expect real people to act in such a situation. One of the first things Charlie does when people start disappearing is what so many protagonists should do… call the cops. They (quite realistically) think Charlie is nuts–as do his friends, who stage an intervention when they’re afraid he might endanger someone. All of this gives the movie a nice grounding when the monsters really get going.
  • The vampire. I imagine it’s hard to be an iconic bloodsucker with a name like “Jerry Dandridge,” but my goodness does Chris Sarandon make it look easy. Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes on this site knows I’m susceptible to what you might call “villain cute,” and you may never find a better example than some of the scenes in Fright Night.  Even so, Jerry is by no means a one-note baddie: by turns amused and frustrated by Charlie’s campaign against him, he also shows a certain amount of weariness with his immortality and need to prey on others that makes him almost a tragic figure. (Me being me, I sat in front of my screen thinking “Oh, yeah. This is what I’m supposed to feel about Connor’s situation in Highlander. ….Yep, still don’t.”)
Wears red, flies around, makes holes in people…what’s Cupid got that this guy doesn’t?

To sum up: Fright Night is a literally great movie that is also very entertaining. (If you want more on this, there’s a documentary I haven’t seen yet, and the Faculty of Horror podcast did a very good episode on the film. That’s where I learned that Chris Sarandon actually researched bats for his role as Dandridge; I thought I couldn’t love Fright Night more, but that tidbit proved me wrong.

 

*It is my belief that there are actors you simply cannot make ugly (readers here can probably name most of them by now), but the filmmakers certainly have a good go at it near the end of this movie—which is only a spoiler if you’ve never seen a vampire movie before.

 

Next time: Music post for Friday because we haven’t had one in a very long time; Jonny Quest posting resumes on Monday. Against steep odds, let’s get normal!