FRIGHTENING FLIX VIDEO REVIEW: Horror Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

 

Hello Contrivance, my old friend!

It’s time to fast forward over the prologues, driving to the horrors, and jump scares to have a fireside chat with Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz as we discuss all the formulaic tropes and problems with paint by numbers horror movies! For more Frightening Flix editorials as well as Kbatz Krafts projects anyone can do, pick up your copy of the Horror Addicts Guide to Life Book 2 workbook anthology available now on Amazon. What Horror cliches are YOU tired of seeing?

 

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Seventh Day

The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.

Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange’s (The Dark) film doesn’t take its own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.

1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we’re going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie’s one-day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don’t mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who’s up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie-making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cut off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn’t that much evidence anyway. We know the movie-making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren’t clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip-flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character’s experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun-toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that’s going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there’s no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.

Despite a fast-tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can’t handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can’t answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot says our priests must be opposites. Wouldn’t you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can’t spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can’t talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it’s terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self-awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There’s no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn’t suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he’s supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it’s released. The Seventh Day’s focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a badass hunter-killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.

Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter’s edgy fast talking accent doesn’t really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel’s timid. However, he’s upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter, it’s about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce’s kick-ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he’s off-screen. Unfortunately, Peter’s teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it’s easy to tune out when we know there is a built-in answer in the script. Peter’s training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn’t just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter’s pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don’t mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I’m still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there’s still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter’s self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I’d eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox, Father Peter, battling demons I can’t lie.

Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn’t even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren’t up to him…he’s the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter’s risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what’s really afoot, and Keith David’s (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however, once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don’t need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out-of-place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day’s style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms-length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion’s den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.

IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we’re supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won’t be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it’s easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops.

 

Read more Frightening Flix Religious and Creepy Kid Horrors:

Religious and Folk Horrors

Evil and Creepy Kids

Krampus

Apparitions

Odds and Dead Ends: Why we only remember the opening of ‘When A Stranger Calls’

The question posed by this article’s title, by default, raises many questions. The film, When A Stranger Calls has passed into horror legend, had a sequel and then been remade in the classic 21st century tradition, and seems to be put in with the canon of horror greats, like so many others. And yet what people remember it for occurs in the opening act, and the rest of the film bares such a lack of resemblance to the actual phone calls that one would be mistaken for thinking that there had been a mix-up in the editing room. So why is it, that when we think of When A Stranger Calls, all we think about is the babysitter being asked if she’s checked the children?

The first point I’d raise is the obvious one; the title of the film. It’s like hearing a Harry Potter title and not thinking of Harry Potter. This immediate drawing of our attention to the singular opening means that our entire connection to the film is dominated by this link of the title to the opening scene. We associate the whole film with the title, and the title with the opening act, so we’re essentially being taught to summarise the film by its relation to the first twenty minutes.

We also have the obvious call-back to Black Christmas (dir Bob Clarke, 1974), with the phone call coming from inside the house. The film wasn’t as well known then, but the influence is undeniable. Additionally, there is the fact that it’s obviously based off the fairly standard urban legend; the legend had already been worked into the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. When you also factor in that the opening is essentially a larger-budget version of a short film based off the legend that director/writer duo Fred Walton and Steve Feke made, called The Sitter, you realise that the basic premise is well known and already recognisable before the feature film. This means that the repetition of the basic storyline makes its way into our memories through an already-established pattern.

After the first twenty minutes go by, the film becomes a strange, police-procedural-cum-Giallo-cum-slasher, the kind of film you’d eventually see with films like Maniac (1980), and some of Fulci’s American films, such as The New York Ripper (1982). That the rest of the film is fairly slow and nowhere near as thrilling as its opener shows how a brilliant start doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole film can hold up. Having to find a route onwards, the filmmakers choosing to follow both the killer (as a fully reasoning and functional – to a certain extent – adult) and the police, is a bold move, but works only if the cat-and-mouse can be sustained. Even if it can (and it’s questionable as to how effective it is in the final cut), it’s so different from the opening act as to only be, from a certain point of view, tangentially linked.

This also doesn’t even mention that the first twenty minutes are, by comparison, a superbly directed piece of suspenseful filmmaking. The direction is taut, the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia wonderful, and the nihilistic ending caps it all off to create one of the most tense openers in film. That our prior knowledge (or most people’s prior knowledge) of the outcome, thanks to our knowledge of the urban legend, doesn’t change the fact that we’re looking for every shadow to move and growing more and more fearful with each frame that passes. With cinematography from an Oscar-nominated cinematographer to boot, it rightly deserves its place in the great halls of horror film canon. It’s just one of those oddities that we can turn off at the 20/21 minute mark and be perfectly happy with walking away from.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @kjudgemental

-Having mentioned Fulci in this article, if you want to read up some more on him, I wrote an article a few years ago as a brief introduction to his work: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/odds-and-dead-ends-lucio-fulci-italys-godfather-of-gore/

-And if you’re interested in learning more about Giallo, the Italian violent thrillers, that Fulci made, I’ve got you covered there as well: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2019/08/05/odds-and-dead-ends-an-introduction-to-the-giallo/

Odds and Dead Ends: A maze inside the mind / Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining, is my favourite horror film of all time. For those that (somehow) aren’t familiar with the film, it is the story of the new caretaker (Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson) and his family at the remote Overlook Hotel over the winter, where ghostly apparitions send him spiraling into madness. Based on the novel by Stephen King, a major feature of the movie which wasn’t in the book is the hedge maze on the hotel grounds. In this article, I’m going to look at this maze, and how it acts as a kind of middle-ground representation of Jack’s ever-twisted mind, as it is changed by the hotel.

Please bear in mind that, as with everything I write for HorrorAddicts.net, in a short article such as this, there’s no way I’m able to cover the wealth of interpretations and analysis and ideas on this film. This is a starting point, where hopefully you can springboard yourself into your own thoughts.

It has been well documented that the layout of the Overlook Hotel is deliberately impossible. Doors lead to nowhere, rooms move, furniture shifts position; everything possible is done to very subtly disorient the viewer. For example, in the first scene of Danny on his tricycle, we pass an exit stairwell leading down, and doors that would appear to go through the thin wall and open up onto the stairwell itself. It is, in fact, a maze of dead ends and double-backs.

Even furniture subtly moves between shots. Rob Ager has documented all this extensively, and his articles and analysis on the subject can be found at his site, which I’ll put a link to at the end of this article. One example is the appearing and disappearing chair behind Jack when Wendy interrupts his writing. Needless to say, with someone like Kubrick, this kind of mismatching wasn’t just sloppy but done deliberately. It is a visual representation of the chaos and insanity that it will try to bring Jack into.

The hotel slowly ratchets up its presence and ghostly manifestations in order to slowly drive Jack mad. This is helped by subtly-suggested alcohol issues (a carry-over from the novel which isn’t nearly as prevalent but still present), and flares of temper. Aided by the claustrophobia of the hotel (‘“what the old-timers used to call ‘cabin fever’”’), and the irritations at being unable to write (‘“Lots of ideas, no good ones though,”’) it all provides the perfect platform for the Overlook Hotel to begin to exert its influence on Jack. The reasons for the Overlook’s attempt to drive Jack to madness are as heavily disputed and debated as almost anything else in the history of fan-theories, and they won’t be discussed here, purely for length reasons.

With the Overlook trying to get a hold on its caretaker, Kubrick wants to give us a middle-ground, to understand that the links between Jack and the hotel go beyond the surface level. Here he presents us with the iconic hedge maze. As I’ve already said, the hotel is a maze in itself, full of twists and turns, and what’s interesting is that almost no two shots of the maze are the same. The map outside the entrance doesn’t match the way Wendy and Danny walk, and the model Jack looks down on doesn’t correspond with either of these. Even the entrance Ullman takes them to in the film’s beginning is on a completely different side of the maze to when Danny runs into at the finale.

There seem to be strong indicators, then, that just like the hotel, the maze changes shape and form. Wendy even says in the kitchen with Halloran that ‘“This place is such an enormous maze I feel like I’ll have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs every time I come in,”’ so if you’re wanting verbal confirmation of this connection, then there it is. But how do we link the maze to Jack?

Firstly, the exterior shots of the Overlook at the beginning of the film don’t show a maze at all. It isn’t present until the whole family are exploring the grounds; when Jack has arrived. Additionally, when Wendy and Danny are exploring it on their own, Jack walks over to the model version in the foyer. We then switch to a top-down view showing a miniature Danny and Wendy walking around the central section. Because, as discussed before, the model and the actual maze don’t add up, we have to assume that this isn’t actually a top-down view of the real maze, but a subjective view of Jack imagining his wife and son in the maze.

By switching to a subjective viewpoint, Kubrick suggests a linking between Jack’s mind (his imagination), and the hedge maze. This doesn’t mean very much throughout the film as, for a large portion of the film, the maze fades into the background. However, right at the very end, it makes a reappearance as Jack chases Danny inside. Surely, as the maze is intrinsically linked with Jack’s mind, this makes sense for the finale to play out there. This is the point where everything combines, hallucination and reality, the Overlook and Jack. In a way, this is almost a proving ground, an arena that the Overlook has provided for their caretaker to show that he can follow out their wishes; that he ‘has the belly for it.’

Ironically, Jack eventually ends up following Danny’s footsteps, just like the trail of breadcrumbs Wendy mentioned at the beginning of the film. He follows Danny in the same way as he followed them through the model before. He has descended into a manifestation of his chaotic mind, distressed by all the factors that enabled the Overlook to push him into pliable madness.

In the end, however, Jack is eventually outsmarted by Danny and stumbles around blindly inside. Whether you believe the ghosts are real or all just a hallucination is irrelevant, because everyone can see that Jack has slipped into madness at this point. Jack is unable to find his way out of the maze, out of his mind. He never recovers, even for a moment as King’s original character does in the novel, and so he freezes to death unredeemed and forever trapped inside the Overlook’s testing ground.

In the end, there really is a simple formula to understand this discussion: Jack Torrance + Overlook Hotel = Hedge Maze. It’s a simple concept, but one probably overlooked by many people watching for the first time, especially by those who aren’t accustomed to looking out for these kinds of interpretations in popular cinema. The Shining is a deeply layered text, and the idea presented is very much a theory, which probably disagrees with 50% of fan theories and analysis of the film, but that’s the way it works with The Shining; everyone has their own idea. In any case, I hope it piques your interest in re-examining the film, and re-watching it, of course. You could do worse things than re-watching one of the greatest films the genre has ever produced; just don’t let it get into your head too much.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

-A link to Rob Ager’s site, which I highly encourage anyone interested in film analysis to check out: http://www.collativelearning.com/

-check out my other articles at HorrorAddicts.net if you like this kind of analysis; I’m sure there’ll be something for you to enjoy: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/author/kjudgeimaginarium/

 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: What Keeps You Alive

 

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.