Occultober – Day 31 – The Exorcist

The Exorcist
What more can be said about the undisputed big-daddy of possession horror? The mega-hit that has endured decades, in fact it is still scary as hell; movie magic at its most fine. I won’t belabour the quality of the film, but if you haven’t seen it on the big screen with an audience, you should really get on that.

When young Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) starts behaving very, very oddly, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) enlists the help of a young priest (Jason Miller) and an old priest (Max Von Sydow) to do battle with the demon inside the child. Vomit is spewed, there is masturbation with a crucifix, rattling and levitating beds, near-subliminal devil-imagery, and anything else shocking that wunderkind filmmaker William Friedkin can throw out at the camera. For my money, the sequence where Regan gets a carotid angiography in the hospital, which is shot as realistic as possible, might be the most difficult to watch.

The legacy of The Exorcist is huge, not only the sequels, and lesser knock-offs, but also in terms of kickstarting (with help from Rosemary’s Baby) by way of the huge financial success, the entire occult subgenre in the 1970s, which more than likely planted the seeds in the cultural consciousness for the Satanic Panic hysterias of the 1980s and 1990s. Amongst other things, was an indirect cause behind the West Memphis 3 miscarriage of justice. It was the basis and the tipping point for this series which ran the entire month.

We hope you enjoyed.

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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 3


Eight-inch floppy disks! Aaaaah!!


Silk (2006 – Chao Bin-Su)
Within the first 20 minutes of Silk you’ve seen ghosts, a discovery that may lead to anti-gravity, a cop with incredible eyesight and a facility for reading lips, and an obese Canadian photographer. How do these elements fit together? And can they possibly do so without imploding? And what about the cop’s dying mother, the silk that ties the energy of the ghosts back to the real world, daylilies and facial tumors? Despite some treacly moments, it does manage to bring all these threads together, but certainly struggles along the way. Using straight dramatic moments, a bit of gore, some thriller aspects and ghost story elements, the film tracks the mystery of a boy ghost that a research team has trapped in a room. The entire story revolves around an anti-gravity discovery called a Menger Sponge which apparently traps energy and therefore can be used to counter gravity. A side effect is its ability to trap the energy of ghosts as well as allow us to see them. It really strains while trying to explain all these abilities and fumbles away most of the larger ideas it strives to get across. The moments with the ghosts remind one of Ju-On somewhat, but they never quite hit the proper atmospheric dread those films had and occasionally some of the scenes deteriorate into plain silliness. Particularly when they essentially ignore the reality that they’ve set up and start creating new boundaries for the ghosts. Also, I suppose that I shouldn’t pick on details, but when the cop opens fire on a crowded subway (shooting bullets sprayed with liquid Menger Sponge and aimed at a ghost only he can see), it’s rather baffling that the subway could pull into the next stop, have no one run screaming from the train and then close its doors and pull away with him remaining inside. And yet, there were some fine spooky images that, although they never quite “got” to me, were nicely realized.



Demon Seed (1977 – Donald Cammell)
This particular demon seed is not the kind you might be expecting…One of the early “artificial intelligence is dangerous” warning films, this Julie Christie vehicle (based on a Dean R. Koontz novel) is chock full of wonderfully designed lab and ’70s “super-computer” equipment. Proteus 4 is the name of the big computer brain that has just been brought online and, though the government has plans to use it for some mundane number crunching, the computer scientists are still happy that they can use 20% of its cycles for beneficial research in health and environment sectors. The human brain behind the whole operation is Alex Harris and once he taps into Proteus 4 from one of his home terminals shortly after it goes online, he quickly realizes that the artificial brain has already figured out that humanity isn’t worth its CPU cycles. Proteus 4 wants to be let out of its box and allowed to acquire whatever knowledge it can on its own – a request that is quickly denied. But Proteus 4 has a backup plan…By going through the home terminal, it takes over the automated systems in Alex’s house (he has surveillance cameras, robotic arms and other machines to handle daily chores) and imprisons Harris’s wife Susan (the two are separated and he has just left the house for a few months). It gets a bit hit and miss from this point on as Susan (as played by Christie) jumps to hysterical behaviour far too quickly and shows no ability to use logic – a shame, because you always want to like Christie while she’s on screen (in pretty much any role). Proteus 4’s plan involves her because it wants to create its own offspring in order to vicariously explore the world. Yeah, you can see where this is going now right? It wants to impregnate Susan with its own synthetic sperm to create a new step in human evolution and manages to capture her and tie her down for numerous tests, the actual insemination and for the month long, speeded-up fetal development. Though you have to give the film credit for just going for its concept and letting it play out, it would’ve been nice to give Christie a bit of respite…


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Fantasia Review: Paranmanjang (aka Night Fishing)


The English title, Night Fishing, is far different than the literal translation of “ups and downs,” although both absolutely apply to this tale of haunting, exorcism and catharsis. The fame of its director notwithstanding, Paranmanjang first made waves for being shot entirely on an iPhone4, albeit with a full crew, a palette of lenses and one hundred thousand dollars. Three minutes into the 30 minute film and all thoughts of tech and gadgets are out the window though as it is unmistakably a product of the talent who made the much revered Vengeance Trilogy. More tonally along the lines of the latter half of Lady Vengeance than flat out cinematic-viscera of Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook (co-directing here with his brother Park Chan-Kyong) is not through with fishing line and hooks. Do you recall that wince-worthy scene in Thirst? Here you do get some colourful shots of putting bait on the hook, and various entanglements, but the line, and the hooks, become a through-line of sorts between the mundane world of the living, and a more uncanny afterlife. Symbols and metaphors for cultural mores come more effortlessly to Park than many of his contemporaries. The mixture of human awkwardness and spiritual ritual has been one of the things I enjoy most about the South Korean auteur, and the key reason I believe Lady Vengeance is his best film. It is a delight that it exists as a whole or in part in all of his films and here it is the primary focus.

On a solo all night fishing trip in a remote part of the Han River, Oh Gi-Suk (Vengeance Trilogy bit player, Oh Kwang-Rok) snarls a body or a ghost on one of his many set lines. To the sound of softly ringing bells, and a bit of fear-laden slapstick, the fisherman ends up having a close encounter and eventual dialogue with the ghost who seems to know far too much about him. The scope of the story then spreads out to eventually encompass Oh Gi-Suk’s extended family which the fisherman abandoned a few years back. Like ghosts, or skeletons in the closet, they are, naturally, looking for closure. Having much in common with both the arthouse intentions of Palm D’Or winner Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives and commercial execution of Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, it is not surprising in the least that Paranmanjang won the Golden Bear at this years Berlinale.

Many of us have iPhones in our pockets, but I would expect very few of us have the chops to shoot something this good looking and intelligent with the powerful little toy. In the hands of a master filmmaker the pocket-computer-with-a-camera becomes simply another medium or vehicle for creative storytelling. The baroque visual elements and the director’s ability to rattle souls we have come to expect is fully on display in another cinematic (and spiritual) tour-de-force which packs in more than enough to chew on in 30 minutes than many filmmakers can manage in 90 or more.

Mikael Håfström Will Exorcise Your Demons

Mikael HåfströmMy first brush wish Swedish director Mikael Håfström came during the film festival a few years ago when I caught a screening of the teen drama Ondskan. I was impressed by the intensity and look of the film and how Håfström managed to make a common story so memorable that it still comes to mind years later.

I was surprised when Håfström made his Hollywood debut with the mostly forgettable thriller Derailed which was, as I remember, a nice looking but ultimately flat film (with the exception of the great Vincent Cassel and admittedly, I didn’t see the twist coming). I saw 1408 in the hopes that it would perhaps be a step into something great but alas, it too was a dud. Now, news that the director has signed on for another thriller, this one religious in scope, puts me one step closer to losing faith in a once promising director.

Titled Last Rite, an adaptation of a non-fiction book, the new project is a thriller about the Vatican’s Exorcism School. I love these religious thrillers (heck, I’m sure I’m one of only a handful of people who bothered to see The Order *cough cough*…maybe even more than once *cough cough*) but this feels like another cheap run at overdone religious thrillers.

My fingers are crossed that Shanghai, Håfström’s re-teaming with John Cusack which is due in theatres in September, is good otherwise, I’m on the brink of writing him off my watch list. And, you know, with all the power I yield, that could be devastating for his career.