The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

 

Based on a true account of an unsuccessful exorcism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a cross between Miracle on 34th Street and The Exorcist. I know that sounds crazy, but it is, and I loved the movie.

Not so much an account of a possession, although we do see the progression of it in flashbacks told from different friends and family’s points of view, this story is more about the aftermath of an exorcism gone wrong resulting in the death of nineteen-year-old Emily Rose. Father Richard Moore, the priest who performed the exorcism is on trial for negligent homicide. While the church wants him to plead guilty so the whole “embarrassing” incident can be swept under the rug, he refuses because he wants to tell Emily’s story.

What I love about this movie is not the horror elements that are for the most part your typical demonic possession tropes, but the character study of those directly involved in the trial of the priest. The defense attorney played by Laura Linney (a favorite actress of mine), is an agnostic looking to advance her career while the prosecutor is a church-going catholic selected specifically for that reason. Father Moore, of course, will lose his position in the church should he choose to go against the Arch Diocese request that he take a plea deal. Each of the major players in this trial must choose between their career and their belief system.

It is thought provoking to see the agnostic come to sympathize with her client’s story so much that she puts her opportunity for partnership and her reputation on the line to prove that Emily was in fact possessed and the exorcism was her only hope. What I did not think was necessary, however, was the “dark forces” surrounding her and the priest during this trial. What exactly was the purpose of it? Wouldn’t the demonic forces want them both to make fools of themselves in a court where it was highly unlikely their defense would be taken seriously? And the story of the found locket with Linney’s character’s initials on it made little sense to the overall plot. In was more distracting than anything. I kept waiting for it to come back into play, to find out what the connection was, but apparently finding it in the snow while contemplating the trial itself was simply a sign from a god she wasn’t sure she believed in? It was unnecessary.

As an agnostic myself who has very strong opinions about organized religion. I found myself most disgusted but not at all surprised with the behavior of the prosecutor and the Arch Diocese. Those who profess to be believers in both heaven and hell are either ashamed of their own beliefs such that they want to keep it hidden (which I believe is the opposite of what a good Christian is supposed to do) or almost disdainful of it to the point that the prosecutor actually became belligerent with the priest and called the idea of demonic possession “silly”.

I found this movie to be more of a statement on organized religion, spirituality, and the right to an individual’s practice of their belief system than a horror film. Still I enjoyed it as a philosophical, discussion provoking film with some occasional horror elements. My biggest and probably most nit-picky complaint was in the choice of Jennifer Carpenter as Emily Rose. It was hard to believe she was a nineteen-year-old girl. She looked way too old for the part and while this film was released a year before the series Dexter began, I couldn’t get the foul-mouthed Deb Morgan out of my head when I watch it.

All in all, I loved the movie as a realistic take on exorcism and the public’s view on it more so than a horror film.

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Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity

Movie Review

 

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”—H.P. Lovecraft

 

When someone asks me if I want to watch a horror movie, my response is always “what kind?” because for me, there are two types: the bloody and unapologetic slasher films and then the more thoughtful and insidious psychological horror films. In this era of daily violence on the 24-hour news stations, the less is more approach to horror films tends to win more respect and elicit the desired effect from the audience.

Paranormal Activity is certainly a psychological horror film of the “found footage” species that has become more popular thanks to films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Paranormal Activity stands out from its predecessors by how little action there is and how much it leaves unseen. If you can sit there watching a woman stand by her bed over her sleeping boyfriend in a seemingly trance-like state for hours doing nothing, and NOT have goosebumps, then you are obviously lacking your amygdala and should probably consult a neurosurgeon.

This movie is presented as a true story about a young couple, Micah and Katie, who have recently moved in together. Some strange events have been occurring and in order to document them, Micah purchases a professional camera which he intends to use to record their lives inside the house. What Micah does not know, but will discover is the paranormal activity is not tied to the house but to his girlfriend. We learn as he does, that Katie has dealt with strange visions and frightening incidences throughout her life. Micah who initially seems angered that she did not share this information with him, becomes obsessed with communicating with the entity and fighting it. As his obsession with interacting with it grows, Katie’s behavior and the activity in the house escalate until the climactic end.

This film was shot with unknown actors and on an extremely low budget manages to creep under your skin and force you to watch for even the minutest detail of change just as you would in our own home upon hearing a strange noise. We, as viewers find ourselves holding our breath as we watch the couple sleeping, waiting for a boom or a door to slam or some dark shadow to come traipsing into the room. There is no need for CGI effects or well-known actors because it is the fear of the unknown and unseen that gets us. It’s the suspense of subtlety that send goosebumps up our arms and leaves us clutching our chair.

Paranormal Activity got it so right with this movie. Most of the scariest parts occur with little to no dialog and almost never any fast-paced action. It isn’t needed. I love this movie for that. I don’t need any explanations or someone weeding through microfilm in the library. I don’t need a medium or an apparition to tell me something really creepy is going on. And honestly, while I have never witnessed any paranormal phenomenon, this seems much more realistic to me than the ghost standing at the foot of your bed or the mist rolling down the stairs. It’s those disembodied thumbs and footsteps and swaying chandelier that makes your skin crawl because maybe, just maybe there is a logical explanation for it. But what if? That’s the unknown of it, that’s the fear that Lovecraft is talking about and that’s the fear Paranormal Activity draws from you so successfully.

The Exorcist Book Review

The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty

 

A classic in horror literature, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is an elongated and at times unnecessarily detailed version of the film. I know this is backwards. I know the book was written first but to his credit, Blatty “killed his darlings” beautifully and wrote the screenplay the way he should have written the book. It’s probably sacrilege to say it as a horror fan, but I thought the book was overwrought with backstory and needless characterization of minor players.

Let’s first analyze the basic story. A young girl, presumably by playing with a Ouija board, becomes possessed by a powerful demon. Her mother, suffering with a lot of guilt for being a single mom and a full-time actress, fights ruthlessly to find help for her. Help comes in the form of a Jesuit priest who is undergoing his own crisis of faith and an older priest who had a premonition that he would be battling this demon during an archeological dig in Iraq.

Chris MacNeil is a famous actress, she is either single or estranged from her daughter Regan’s father. She is struggling in the way all single mother’s do to balance her career and her family. She is an atheist, she is a strong woman and is not afraid to speak up when necessary. We get this from Blatty in the first third of the book. Do we need so much detail on her? I’m not sure. I know I struggled to “get to the good stuff” about Regan. The screenplay managed to give us all this information about Chris in a much shorter time. Blatty spent a lot of time on Chris’s acting and career that I just don’t think was essential and when it is so heavily laid in the beginning of the book, had I no history or previous knowledge of where the story was going, I may have quit before getting there.

The rest is woven into the story line well enough that you don’t mind getting the extraneous backstory because it’s a needed break from Regan’s illness. Karl and Willie, Chris’s servants have quite the backstory given to them which is discovered by the very Inspector Columbo-esque Kinderman, who just cannot give up the idea that someone in the house killed Chris’s director and friend Burke. I’m not convinced that we needed so much information that ultimately became obsolete about Willie and Karl’s daughter or Kinderman for that matter. I don’t think it matters to the story that Chris had lost a child before Regan. My guess is, neither did Blatty because he left much if not all of it out when he wrote the screenplay for which he won an Academy Award. I am puzzled why Sharon, Regan’s nanny, never got the same treatment as the rest in the house. I would have liked to know more about her and what she and Regan did all day. How did Regan come to play with a Ouija board alone as often as she professed without Sharon knowing?

If I don’t watch myself, I’ll be just as bad as Blatty with my wordiness. Here’s the thing. I love this story, I wish it was a little less wordy, yes, but my God did Blatty take some chances with it. People tell writers all the time to write for yourself and not to worry about what people might think. Blatty did that no doubt. There is some gruesome language and words in here befitting a high-ranking demon. I loved it. I loved that the priests didn’t come in and just say some words and defeat the demon. I liked the slow escalation in the possession. It seemed realistic and terrifying. The fact that it was a young girl made it all the more horrific. The priests were scared and rightfully so. I read that Blatty used a real exorcism as the basis for this book and he obviously did his research. Blatty’s book and movie have truly become the model that all other possession movies aspire to and often come in lacking.

Grave’s End: A True Headache, I mean Ghost Story

Grave’s End: A True Ghost Story

By Elaine Mercado, R.N. (Yes it really says that on the book and I sure hope she is better nurse than author.)

 

Imagine you took a classful of kindergartners on a camping trip and told them to work together to tell you a haunted house story. If you are into that sort of nonsensical, endless chatter, you will really enjoy this book. I don’t even know where to start with this book. The writing was so bad, I looked up the publisher to see if was even a real business. I get that Ms. Mercado is not a writer by trade but what kind of editor or publisher lets something that resembles a shitty first draft out into public and expects people to pay money for it? Mercado is so repetitive with her words and phrasing. Her hindsight dialog sounded like the speech of an English doctorate. No teenagers or children speak the way Mercado records. And her timeline skips back and forth through years at times to the point that you have no idea who said what when.

And then there is Mercado herself. What is wrong with her? In Chapter 3, she talks about the things that were happening in the house to her and her children. She has talked to a therapist about her possible haunted house and she has regaled us with her sleepless nights and “suffocating dreams”. When her eldest daughter starts experiencing similar events (some much worse than anything Elaine herself had to deal with), Mercado tells us “I wanted to believe her…” Really? I wanted to smack her. One paragraph she talks about how terrifying it was and how they were all having similar dreams and then she starts on about how she didn’t believe in it. But who knows, maybe the time between those two paragraphs was like ten years because as you are reading along she throws in “this was 1998…” or “But when I said this, we had already lived in the house for five years”. How anyone could follow the sequence of events in that house based on her story-telling, I don’t know.

Speaking of inconsistencies, there were some so glaring that you know she made conversations up to fill the book or try to make it better. Here is my favorite. On page 92, she is having a discussion with her now estranged husband, he has moved out of the house and is telling her about an experience he had while living there that just slipped his mind until then: “You know, Elaine, now that I am out of the house, I’ve remembered how comfortable a night’s sleep can be. Why don’t you sell that house and forget about all of this.? Get rid of it.” So, Elaine does think about it and on page 97, she tells him that she is shopping for a new home and his response to that just five pages later: “Elaine,” he said almost laughing. “I know you got the house in the separation agreement, but it won’t be yours to sell, legally, until we are actually divorced. Didn’t you know that?”

And there are so many more. Karin, the daughter who has been hit in the head with a gerbil cage and had a hair clip thrown at her face and has actually seen multiple specters, always screaming, and crying and running to the living room is angry and hurt that anyone would want to drive the spirits away. Anyone being Hans Holzer and a medium named Marisa Anderson. Dr. Hans Holzer is apparently famous and on page 128, Elaine is thrilled to hear that this guy who she had watched on TV was coming to help her. She was so relieved that they were coming to help and maybe rid her home of ghosts. And these thoughts run straight into this sentence on the very next page: “I still had my doubts about the medium and even Dr. Holzer…I had some suspicions about the whole area of psychic investigation…”

That sort of nonsense makes up the entire book. I just couldn’t enjoy any of it. This author was too hard to follow with her time jumps, her bipolar feelings from one sentence to the next, her poor me the victim attitude and her poor parenting skills. I hated her the entire way through the book and didn’t care much for anyone else in it either.

I have only one positive thing I can say and that is if you take all the things that she reported happened in her house and looked at them, they all seem more believable then other purportedly non-fiction hauntings (like The Amityville Horror) and many of the Warrens tales (The Conjuring films). So, while I believe her house may have been haunted, I think I would have enjoyed it more coming from a kindergartner.

The Amityville Horror (Book Review)

The Amityville Horror

By Jay Anson

                This was a quick and easy read because, I am guessing, it was quick and easy to write. I managed to read it in one sitting.

Written like a true crime novel, Anson, a journalist, collected and collated hours of recorded interviews with George and Kathy Lutz to write the book. Laid out neatly in a time line format, this book documents the twenty-eight days the Lutz’s lived at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, N.Y.—a home where just thirteen months prior, Ronnie DeFeo murdered his mother, father, and four siblings with a high-powered rifle. DeFeo stated, at the time of his confession, that he heard voices telling him to do it.

If I was Anson writing this book, I certainly would have started with a chapter on the night DeFeo killed his family and his subsequent arrest and confession. But Anson chooses only to let us in on as much as the Lutz’s knew and so, we take the journey along with them.

Besides the Lutz’s, the story focuses on Father Mancuso, a friend of the family who agreed to bless the house and in doing so, angered the evil within such that it could reach beyond the house and attack him as well.

I’m a huge fan of true crime, true paranormal tales, and unsolved mysteries. If a book is well written, such as The Amityville Horror I’ll devour it. Then I spend hours after reading it, researching the story. Having previously researched the Warrens (Ed and Lorraine), I knew some of the background on the Amityville controversy. I admittedly never read this book before but approached it skeptically. I have seen both versions of the movie though and enjoyed them as works of fiction (and one with Ryan Reynolds for the pure beauty of it).

The thing is, when it comes to a cohesive story that is believable about a demonically possessed house, the movie—presented as a fictionalized account of a true story—worked so much better than the book. I can’t blame Anson if he indeed simply wrote a book out of the Lutz’s sordid tale (but if the stories of conspiratorial hoaxes are true, then we can throw some blame his way as well). Any fan of horror realizes quickly that the Lutz’s seemed to have pieced together a variety of haunted house tropes to tell their story of the ultimate haunting.

Was the house built on an ancient Native American burial ground or the site of a kind of N.A. asylum or wait, was it the home of an escaped witch from Salem? No, actually, it was the site of devil worship with animal and human sacrifices, or was it? All of these were supposedly found about the house. That’s not all though, there is a well in the basement where evil things may be hiding in and escaping from.

Ok, so maybe we can deduce the cause based on the type of ghostly activity the Lutz’s experienced. The attack on the priest seems to suggest demonic activity, but then why didn’t it bother Aunt Theresa the nun? Perhaps these ghosts are just lonely lost souls like a little old lady with boundary issues or the boy who was just looking for a friend to play with.

There were certainly suggestions of poltergeist activity with the marching band and moving ceramic lion (unless the band was playing Hail to the demonic chief and the lion had horns and a forked tail). My point here is the story itself was hard to believe. It was all over the place and the haunting didn’t follow any specific line of haunting. Evil vs good vs lost souls in a loop—it’s all there, every haunted cliché. Anson’s “true story” becomes more like a novelized version of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. Whether this is Anson’s fault or the Lutz’s, I don’t know but I suspect there is plenty of blame to share.

The Amityville horror tries to be Hell House without Belasco and for the plot—it doesn’t work. Written in a true crime journalistic fashion, it keeps you reading until the end, even if when you get there, you put the book down, roll your eyes, and walk away.

The Others

The Others (2001)

A Movie Review

 

I like horror films that make you think, films that have you dreading what’s to come and when it does, it turns out to be completely different than what you expected. Films like that are hard to come by. I give The Others high marks. That’s not to say it is without flaws and I’ll get to them but first I’ll discuss what I love about the film and bear with me because I am going to try to do it without any spoilers.

Nicole Kidman does a wonderful job as the lead character in this gothic tale of a widowed mother and her two children (who unfortunately suffer from a severe allergic reaction to sunlight) in a large home on an island off the coast of Britain. Being that isolated and alone, would drive a lot of women crazy, and a big old house is bound to make for some paranoia, especially if spending much of the time in the dark. The children, of course, have such great imaginations they add to the suspense of “is there something here with us?”

When the three strangers who seem to be answering an ad for help arrive. Things get even stranger. Kidman’s mother is both vulnerable and threatening at the same time, the children both love and fear her, her daughter challenges her and scoffs at her all the while the hired help behave suspiciously. Who is evil, who is doing what in that house?

We rarely get to see anything, either. The film takes a Lovecraftian approach with the idea that what we fear most is the unknown. Of course, we get hints and red herrings along the way that keep our heads spinning. Oh, it’s the hired help that are up to something…..No, wait, its Ann, the girl, is she possessed? There is something really creepy about their mother. Is that man really their long-lost father? Is he a ghost?

My absolute favorite creep out, and I will say this without guilt because I remember it being used in the previews, is when Ann is playing with a marionette while wearing her communion dress, her mother approaches to tell her to take it off and when the girl turns around, it’s not Ann but a creepy old woman! This is the first time we see anything that can’t be blamed on a character we know. And suddenly, we know something more than trickery is at play.

I don’t think anyone who watched this movie would not try to compare it to The Sixth Sense. I did and that’s where I found it wanting. The first time I saw The Sixth Sense, (maybe I was really naïve) I missed all the subtle clues and was shocked at the end. When I rewatch it, I am in awe of the way Shyamalan gave these brilliant hints away that you never even caught. Unfortunately, in The Others, the clues are almost thrust in our faces. “Ann told me what you did to her” and the old tombstone sticking out of the leaves. Much of the dialog was heavy with innuendos such that you could start guessing that someone in that house was not what/who they appeared to be. When the end came, I was like “yep, I figured, now just give the details of how exactly it happened and end it”.

Going back to The Sixth Sense for a minute, the other problem I had with The Others were all the loose ends and plot holes. When The Sixth Sense ends, everything makes sense, all the answers are so obvious. When The Others ended, I had questions—lots of them. Where were the servants before showing up at the house? Why weren’t there any others living there? Where did the husband come from and where did he go? I’d love to discuss Heaven and Hell and Purgatory but then I would even have more questions, like why the children are with their mother and not their father? Why is the mother allowed to stay in her house? The story itself is good, the brooding feel, the anticipatory fright is all there right along with the O’Henry twist at the end. But once I know that, there isn’t much going back and rewatching it that makes sense. Much like this review. I said I really liked this movie and ended my review by trashing it. So there, my ending doesn’t make sense either and therefore it’s a perfect place to end.

 

 

Hope is a Bezoar (A poem not class related)

Hope is a Bezoar

 

My strange addiction—swallowing words

With no substance

“I promise” sits undigested, unabsorbed

In my stomach

“I’m sorry” wraps tangled around other things

You’ve said with only your mouth

Your eyes empty of nourishment

But still I swallow and allow it to grow larger

In my gut

Never reaching my blood stream

Or feeding the tissues of my heart

“It’s not good for you,” they say

“You should stop.”

Probably, I tell them

As I turn back to you

Awaiting another morsel of trash

Thrown haphazardly at me

Like bread to the ducks

Please Don’t Feed Them

There is No Nutritional Value

And They Come to Rely on It

But they are just stupid ducks

I know better.

“I love you,” you say

With your cock buried deep inside me

Do you mean it? I ask

Even as I feel it add to the weight of the stone in my middle

Which has become so big that it blocks everything else

I am thin, emaciated, starved

And your words weigh me down, keeping me anchored in place

My heart is weak

I no longer have the strength to carry myself away

“It will have to be cut out or it will kill you,”

The doctor says.

But maybe it won’t, I say

Maybe this stone will take the place of my heart.

And maybe then, like you,

I will be free.