Ghostbuster Boys Vs Ghostbuster Girls

Ghostbusters

Boys vs Girls

 

Who doesn’t love Ghostbusters? No. I’m serious because if you don’t, get off my blog! I love Ghostbusters both the original and the new. I will be comparing the two and if at any point it sounds as if I prefer one over the other or that I dislike one for any reason, I apologize. That is not my intent.

As a female, I am going to address the elephant in the room: gender and the attitudes towards it in both films. We’ll start with the 1984 original. When I was a kid all of nine years old when this film opened in theaters, I thought nothing of the all-male heroes. For me, that was a norm. When they announced a reboot with an all-female group, I was excited because I remember the feeling I had walking out of the theater as a kid and feeling like I could be a hero too. I was excited for little girls who would get to see women being the hero and not have to just imagine it. The thing is, it was not hard for me to imagine even with the male cast because I never felt that movie came off sexist or misogynistic in anyway.

This semester, when I watched it with a critical eye, looking specifically for sexism, I still could not find it. Yes, Dr. Venkman was kind of a sleaze ball, womanizer, but that was his character and in no way did that represent the general feel of the film. In fact, most of the buffoonery, questionable professionalism and general ignorance was seen in the male characters. The two main female characters in the film, Dana Barrett and Janine Melnitz were independent, self-assured, take-no-shit women. Even the final “bad guy” Gozer, who could, according to Egon, be whatever it wants to be, chose to be the form of a woman. And she was a real bad ass. If there is any complaint to the film’s treatment of non-white male characters, it would be Winston Zeddemore. He became a ghostbuster only because he needed a job and they were swamped. He turned on them as soon as they ended up in prison and never played much of a role in the end either. He is a character that leaves you asking what exactly was his point to the plot.

In contrast, we have the 2016 female-led cast which brings with it more scares, a different kind of humor and an agenda. From the very start, Erin Gilbert is critiqued on her clothes, told her references from Princeton are not prestigious enough. She is frantic to hide a scientific book she co-authored because it might be regarded as silly. Men in the movie make comments like “she shoots like a girl” or “women…always late”. The mayor wants to use their talents and skills to save the city but never gives them credit for their work. He calls them crazy to the press, has them publicly arrested while continuing to utilize them. These are more “unspoken” parodies of common sexism that women face in daily life. And then there’s Kevin, the quintessential hot but dumb receptionist who happens to be male. The girls interview him asking inappropriate questions—questions many of us have endured even if it is inappropriate. Kevin is the more obvious and humorous example of the movie’s message on sexism by turning the tables on common roles in the workplace and exaggerating (but surprisingly not by much) the inappropriate interactions that can and do occur.

The women ghostbusters actually tested their tools, they made more than just a trapping device, and they fought more and harder. The girls took on scarier and more menacing ghosts more frequently. Collectively, they came off smarter than their male counterparts—except for when Erin made a mistake by releasing the demon when trying yet again to prove herself as legit to a man that she held in high regard (played by Bill Murray). Patty was an important member to the group and she brought a lot to the plot. She was street-smart, sassy, and hard working. She wanted to be a part of their team and she cared about the job. The women didn’t care about color (except for Garfield hair color) and the film-makers cared enough to make Patty essential to the plot.

Venkman became most serious about his job when a would-be girlfriend was affected, all four female ghostbusters took their jobs seriously and even risked their lives to save each other. Bottom line, while 1984 Ghostbusters is a straight up great movie filmed with the intent to entertain, the 2016 Ghostbusters is a great movie too, but those women came in with a message and I heard it loud and clear.

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Poltergeist

Poltergeist 1982

Movie Review

 

This movie is, for me, the best “haunted house” movie ever. It is one of my all-time favorites and it was hard for me to watch it critically. I did manage however to find a few things that could have gone better. First, let me start with why the movie is just such a great piece of cinema. When I saw this as a kid, it scared the shit out of me. To this day, I get anxious when I have to look under a bed or even if a leg dangles precariously off the bed. I just know that damn clown is going to reach out and pull me in. I also to this day still have nightmares about being stuck in a muddy pit (pool) and not being able to get out and away from whatever is after me. All because of this movie.

The movie opens with the playing of the national anthem on the television. Yes, kids, the programming was not always 24/7. But we get an extreme close up view of the television screen until it is only blurry pixels—what are we supposed to see? Carol Anne saw something in those pixels and that something in turn saw her. That’s where the craziness starts.

This movie has all the elements of a perfect haunted house story. The nice, normal family in the suburbs, a creepy old tree, storms, the big bad developers who built on top of a graveyard which somehow opens a portal between the world of the living and a sort of purgatory. As soon as Carol Anne makes the connection with the creatures in this limbo, things start to get weird and they escalate quickly. A dead canary (harbinger of death, right??), furniture and people being pushed by invisible forces, weird weather and a tree that tries to eat Robbie (off topic tangent—why did they put it the scene of Robby and his Mom’s profiles speaking in front of the TV? Poor kid will live with those terrible buck teeth on film for the rest of his life). In the process of saving Robbie from being eaten by a tree, Carol Anne gets sucked into her closet where the portal to purgatory begins. What a great way to introduce the main problem of this story. A perfect storm if you’ll pardon the pun.

I’m going to stop for a moment and make my first critical point of the film. What exactly is the point of the character Dana? She is the eldest child of Steve and Diane Freeling. She is sixteen so much older than Robbie’s eight and Carol Anne’s five. We also know that Diane is thirty-two so that means she had Dana at sixteen. I know that’s possible, but it just doesn’t really jive with the picture we’re presented of this particular family. Dana really brings nothing to the plot and most of the time is not even there when anything frightening happens. She makes some obscene gestures to the cat-calling excavators and screams a lot, cries a lot, and makes a subtle remark about how she knows about the Holiday Inn motel suggesting Dana isn’t all that innocent of a teenager. Besides that, what is her purpose in the plot?

And since I am being nit-picky, let’s talk for a short moment about the paranormal investigator who decided to make a late-night snack while everyone is sleeping. He goes to the fridge and pulls out (not on a plate or wrapped up in any way, mind you) a nice, thick, raw steak which he then throws on the counter (again sans plate). Now, first of all, it’s probably not his steak and secondly everyone is sleeping in the living room! Is he really going to fry up an entire steak and eat it as a midnight snack? What? I just found this extremely humorous. I thought I would point that out. You probably didn’t notice because you were laughing at the special effects of the guy’s face melting off, but back off, it was 1982, geez.

Bottom line, this movie still gives me the creeps and I love it. The complaints I have are few and petty. It’s a complete tale of a haunted house and it works. You care about this family and you like the extra characters. It’s got great jump scares and some slow burns too. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it. Forget the new version and go with a classic.

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.

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.