Horrorfest 2021 Presents: Malignant (2021, James Wan)


After doing big time Hollywood franchise movies, James Wan returned to give us another freaky horror movie. In this case I’m not sure if Malignant is a great bad movie, a good movie, or a complete mess. However I dug this movie a lot, and it managed to creep me out and even scare me at times, which is more than I can say for a lot of horror movies.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins to have nightmarish visions of murders in Seattle. Her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson) decides to investigate, and what she uncovers is both shocking and disturbing. James Wan creates a horror movie that is equal parts giallo, supernatural thriller, and body horror movie in one crazy, glorious package.

This movie should be viewed for the cop station scene alone, and also because it’s a giant homage to the films that clearly inspired James Wan. Plus George Young is actually really good as the one cop who mostly believes Madison, and the final act is utterly insane. Some may not enjoy this movie, yet I feel many such as myself will champion it years from now.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Insidious (2010, James Wan)


The opening shot is grainy, as if out of focus, centering on a children’s bedroom. The camera pans away from him sleeping blissfully, going towards the closet, quietly detailing everything happening. Only to rest on a freaky older lady, not moving, staring into the darkness. The music picks up and the title card slams onto the screen, violently. INSIDIOUS. From this point on I was bloody terrified. James Wan is a master of horror, crafting nightmares with ease.

Poor Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) are parents dealing with their son being in what appears to be a coma. In a great twist on the haunted house genre he is in fact haunted, which means that the family is still in trouble no matter where they move. Wan is offering his own take on classic horror films such as Poltergeist and Burnt Offerings, movies where a family unit comes under attack from malevolent spirits. One scene where Byrne deals with a man invading her room left me scared to the point where I stopped the film midway through.

If anything the main complaint about this film is that by the last act you are so numb to the frightening elements that the film stops having the scare effect on you. There is a demon ghost that reminded me of the infamous face from The Exorcist and several other moments that encouraged me to sleep with the lights on. Oh and one hell of an ending that I did not see coming. This is probably his best film, even though I still have one other horror (this film’s sequel) and several other non horror films to see from Wan. I’m glad he’s become famous yet I’m bummed that he’s going away from horror.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Hostel (2005, Eli Roth)


Literally this is a nice homage/quasi remake of the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with some notable twists. A trio of friends travel to an Eastern European hostel and discover unknown terrors. Jay Hernandez is the main leader of the trio which also includes one other American and a guy from Iceland named Oli. Eli Roth lures us in with the first, quiet fun half, only to dive into a second, brutal act.

One scene that is blood curdling is when a man proceeds to cut a girl’s toes off. You don’t see it happening, though, and the scene is shot in a way that pays homage to the famous Chainsaw Massacre moment when Leatherface clubs someone and slams the door shut behind him. Another scene involves creepy and brutal torture, displayed in unflinching realism. Which is what the film got unfairly criticized for, along with other similar movies of that time period.

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I’m sure that better writers have dived into Hostel, Saw and other horror films that depict torture as being awful and morally wrong. Others, however, argue in favor of these movies being a mirror into American horror after 9-11 and the use of torture on terror suspects. I feel that such movies are, for better or worse, in line with the later. Particularly with the movies commentary on Americans, consumerism, and even class and social politics. Even if such thoughts are obvious or not quite well illustrated.

Despite this film’s flaws I think Hostel is an engaging slasher film with more bite than many of its breatheren. The slasher was mocked for being dumb so Eli Roth and James Wan, among others, decided to make the genre leaner, nastier and smarter. I think they succeded, and I would prefer more films like theirs than usual mindless fare, even though I do enjoy the dumb ones, too.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Dead Silence (2007, James Wan)


 

Poor Jamie (Ryan Kwanten). He escaped his home town yet he is forced to return because of grisly events. Upon coming back he finds out that the homecoming is also ugly: hardly anyone is left. His father, Edward (Bob Gunton) is wheelchair bound and just as evil as he remembers. Also the ghost of Mary Shaw lingers over the town, existing as a mystery that Jamie must unravel. He needs to recall one thing: “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw / She had no children only dolls / And if you see her in your dreams / Be sure to never ever scream.”

James Wan’s Dead Silence suffers a bit from plot holes and some weak acting. Yet it’s still a relatively creepy and even scary movie that thrives on people’s  (myself included) fear of puppets. Mary Shaw (played expertly by Judith Ann Roberts) though is terrifying herself: after all, she had herself made into a puppet after her death. I also dig Wan’s 1970s horror ascetic and Donnie Wahlberg chews scenery as a detective who is the center of normal in this crazy movie. I also loved the ending despite many critics not liking it or the film at all. That’s too bad since Wan has a unique style is and is a gifted horror filmmaker. Oh well.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: The Conjuring (2013, James Wan)


Sporting a talented cast and channeling precious classic horror films The Conjuring is a near great film. James Wan seems to have a knack for horror, having also directed others such as Saw  and Insidious. Reportedly based on the cast files of a pair of psychic researchers named Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), this is a really freaky and entertaining movie. The 1970s setting is  a bonus, and I do like how this film answers the question of all haunting films: why don’t the people just leave? As in the good horror films the answer isn’t simple, and the solution may be unpleasant.

Having previously dealt with a creepy looking doll (interestingly the most eerie thing in the entire movie) called Annabelle, the Warrens seem content to rest and spend time with their daughter. However a Rhode Island couple named Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) approach them in a desperate bid to defeat the malevolent spirit that may be threatening them and their children. Naturally there are horror cliches such as the dog refusing to enter the house (dogs always sense the evil, don’t they?) and strange sounds echoing throughout the house. Wan uses plenty of slow burn and intense close up shots to make the audience feel as if they are in the house, and he actually doesn’t abuse jump scares or offer cheap moments, something that too many directors overuse in movies such as this one. Also it helps that the cast is all top notch, as Livingston and Wilson have also appeared in horror movies and Farmiga has a knack for playing both strong and vulnerable. However it is Taylor, who also starred in the remake of The Haunting, who is the main attraction of this movie. She has the difficult task of playing a woman that at first wonders if she is crazy, then slowly accepts what is going on, and in the end is forced to deal with the evil on a personal level.

Thanks to this movie I will never be able to think about a game of hide and seek again, not to mention whenever I hear multiple clapping. Plus I dug the scenes where the Warrens host question and answer sessions with local colleges, as they show footage of some of their encounters. The film even uses found footage style film making at one point with a valid reason to do so, which is cool too. Whether or not the actual incident in question ever happened I’m not sure, yet I am curious to learn more about the Warrens and I look forward to the planned sequel, which will feature both Wilson and Farmiga returning along with Wan, who is a promising young horror film maker in his own right. Also this film has a great original score, something that is worth mentioning as not too many modern horror films have exceptional original scores or original scores in general. This one does.

Top 20 Horror Films Of The 2000s Presents: Saw (2004)


9.    Saw (2004, James Wan)

Looking back I’ll admit I was wrong to bash the Saw series, even though I still don’t have a great interest in watching all of them. From what I hear after the third or forth entry things start to really go downhill, which is a shame because based on what I have heard/read the mythology of Jigsaw is fascinating. This is a man who plans elaborate traps for his victims, and yet in the end gives them a choice: life or death. You feel sorry for his victims even though they are people who if they had chosen a better path more than likely would have not ended up in Jigsaw’s warehouse, forced to struggle for their own survival. Also those affected by Jigsaw who are not among his participants feel the after effects of his work, as showcased by Danny Glover’s haunted and obsessed police detective who frantically searches for Jigsaw, his life reduced to desiring retribution. That is no way to live, either, although based on what happened to Glover’s character you feel sorry for him as well.

Oh and this movie is absolutely brutal in ways that did actually shock me. I didn’t expect a certain famously spoofed moment to be so jarring and horrifying to watch, and this is coming from someone who has viewed many gory horror movies over the past decade. I’m rather amused that the sequels feature way more carnage and yet its the limited blood and violence that happens in this movie that felt unreal and disturbing to me. Even though I knew the twist when it happened I still felt its full power: Saw is a movie that does not deserve the silly “Torture Porn” label that I now hate and really never should have ever used, either. “Do you want to play a game?” is a chilling question that resonates long after the final haunting scene.

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