Tag Archives: Paranormal Activity

I ain’t fraid of no ghosts

So mused Ray Parker Jr, ghosts may have not given him sleepless nights but Huey Lewis and the News did when they sued him for the Ghostbusters theme sounding uncannily like one of their tunes.

We’ve got our first ever Fright Nights ghost hunting experience lined up at Oxford Castle, this was penned prior to but posted after that experience, and like the Ghostbusters we, myself, Sarah, my brother, Gavin, and his partner, Shona, are taking on the paranormal as a foursome, albeit minus matching jump suits.

Of course we will have maglites aplenty, doffing of cap to Mulder and Scully, along with some trusty chocolate and caffeine fuelled soft drinks, Mountain Dew with their luminous green bottles, a subconscious nod to Slimer no doubt, to get us through the night. We aired on the side of caution and decided to stay clear away from Stafpuft Marshmallows, just as a precaution you understand.

So, am I a believer or sceptic? Neither really, I’m not expecting rattling chains or Hollywood Paranormal Activity shenanigans, of course who hasn’t seen Most Haunted, who have even spent the night at Oxford Castle in the same areas we are set to tread in the dead of night, or programmes of that ilk.

I spent huge chunks of my childhood mesmerised by the likes of the Usborne Book of Ghosts, Peter Haining’s Book of Hauntings and Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, so am faintly aware of my Borley Rectory to the Enfield Poltergeist, not to mention all things Amityville Horror.

Dean and Gav Winchester, I mean Newman

Back to the Ghostbusters side of things, my brother is certainly the Ray Stanz of the group, equipped with his night vision camcorder and several torches, including a wind up one if the spirits zap the energy in all the others. Not to be outdone, I’d like to think of myself as the Peter Venkman of the group, but with slightly better skin, although am sure the glasses and quiff is more Egon in nature, I’ve got a dictaphone and two stills cameras packed.

I’ll be leaving the likes of Poltergeist and White Noise at the door with the sceptical but open to possibilities me taking those steps into the darkness of Oxford Castle and the secrets that await…the only white light I plan to be walking into is the one into the burgeoning daylight of 4am in the morning.


Case 39 AKA Bridget Jones and the edge of insanity

Renee, steady, go

Is it a question of case dismissed as dismal or file under ‘E’ for enjoyable for this Renee Zellweger horror? Dean Newman discusses his notes.

I’m pleased to report that this chiller delivers some quite fun and effective hebegeebes and is neither the disaster nor bore that I had feared. It may not be the most original horror thriller ever, taking various cues from the likes of The Exorcist, The Omen and even The Ring, but it certainly more than held the interest.

Zellweger stars as Social Worker, Emily Jenkins, who is handed the Case 39 of the title and discovers all is not well at the Sullivan household where 10 year old Lillith is being abused and threatened by her mum and dad. Things come to a head when a concerned Zellweger gatecrashes the Sullivan’s with cop friend, Mike Barron (Ian McShane) to see the 10 year old being placed in the families’ oven, in one of the film’s standout moments and perhaps cinema’s greatest fridge pummelling outside of Tom & Jerry.

Jenkins takes the child into care, but nothing is as it seems and playing temporary foster mum is far from child’s play (save for the Chucky variety) and events and deaths soon escalate, including an impressive insect set piece that does for hornets what The Amityville Horror did for flies.

The child prays and plays on people’s fears, adding a further dimension to the proceedings, but can Zellweger’s character face her fears and save herself, the people close to her and her own sanity?

Zellweger follows in the footsteps of the likes of Naomi Watts (The Ring), Jennifer Connelly (Dark Water), Sarah Michelle Gellar (The Return) and Julianne Moore (The Forgotten and the soon to be released Shelter) into the realm of Hollywood women headlining oh so creepy horror but thankfully this isn’t as painfully slow paced as the recent likes of The Unborn (shame on you David S Goyer) and The Return, both of which were painfully dull and slow. Note to horror writers and directors, just because The Ring was a slow burner and did good box office it doesn’t mean that slow equals worthy or watchable horror.

Sure, Case 39 is not without its faults and isn’t going to top anyone’s greatest horror movie list but it does have a couple of nice memorable set pieces, as mentioned above, some effective jumps and a fine supporting cast, namely in the form of Bradley (soon to be ‘Face Man’ in The A Team) Cooper and Ian McShane.

For me I found this piece of horror hokum as much fun as White Noise and other recent child horror fare, The Children and Orphan, the latter which also shares a thing or two with this Omen-esque relation. It’s certainly a fun frightfest and I found it far more interesting and engaging than how the ‘story’ in Paranormal Activity, which sound design aside was rather trite, unfolded.


Saw VI – still sharp after all these years?

Saw VI was the first film in the series to not slash through the £100 million barrier in the US thanks to it being brutally slain at the Halloween box office by Paranormal Activity, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t any good, reports Dean Newman.

The Saw series, or dare I say phenomenon, first leapt out onto cinema screens back in 2004 and has been back again regular as clockwork each Halloween since, not bad for a series whose main character ‘died’ in part 3!

Still inventive, still disturbing. Yet it’s the twist and turns of the storyline that I watch it for and how they oh so cleverly link it to the movies and characters that have come before, quite literally a jigsaw of a film franchise, apt considering it’s also the moniker of the main character. It certainly won’t be easy for new fans to pick up the series from here, but that is the joy of following the threads and tangents right from the start.

Talking of the main character, the Jigsaw clown puppet has to be the only horror icon from the last decade, sharing the same status as the likes of Ghostface, Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, Michael and Chucky. After all what other pure horror series has spawned both a theme park ride and a game, certainly none of the aforementioned. In fact Saw VI even inspired a reality TV programme, no really, called ‘Scream Queens’ on VH1 where nubile young ladies had to ‘die’ convincingly for a part in this very film, makes a change to singers killing songs on The X Factor.

Most of the time you could argue whether the Jigsaw killer, the latest incarnation being Costas Mandylor, is almost a vigilante of sorts as the people strapped up to devices are generally not the nicest of folk, although in actual fact he is doing the bidding of original pig head wearing fiend played by Tobin Bell.

And so to the latest instalment, this time the franchise has a conscience and actually chooses an issue that is especially topical in the US, healthcare, although it kicks proceedings off with a bloody nod and wink mutilation of two loan sharks. Jigsaw’s victims this time round, as ever people who have sucked the goodness from society, are health insurers and namely the people who find flaws in health insurance policies so they don’t have to pay the dying. At one point John (Tobin) even comments that people think healthcare decisions are made by doctors, patients and the government, but they are made by the insurance companies.

Of course, it just so happens one of the clients they didn’t honour was Jigsaw. Thus this set-up neatly riffs on the usual Saw story of human survival and how people react when faced with death. This film, and franchise as a whole, raises the horror bar as it’s not just a group of annoying teens being stalked and slashed, there is purpose and reason. More importantly there is plenty of creativity, which is astonishing with it being the sixth in the series, personally I feel parts II and III were the weakest.

Life insurance salesman, William Easton, and the man who denied Jigsaw and other terminal people like him, just sees figures and potential survival rates…until he sees the figures of his work colleagues being offered up for sacrifice, but who does he choose to save from being hanged, the middle aged woman with diabetes and a family or the healthy young man with no family? It’s certainly much more fun than Ant and Dec’s Push the Button and is quite primal in its horror.

One scene where Easton quite literally gets blood on his hands is where he decides on which two people to save from a group of six, the people up for sacrifice are those who spot errors in claims and policies resulting in two thirds being denied, ironically denying two thirds of them life. He has to look at the victims as they die…something he never, or they never have to do in real life. For horror, at least, it’s all thought provoking stuff.

Throughout, the film jumps between the duel storylines of the life insurance executive and his bids for freedom and the ever closing net on Detective Hoffman, who just so happens to be one of the investigating officers.

The last few instalments have of course still had their inventive death scenes and blood and gore moments, but the series is now more in the domain of horror thriller than the torture porn title it was slapped with when it first started, so is as much about the complicated story, certainly for horror at least, as it is the death scenes, a reason why it has lasted longer than say its brother in blood, Hostel.

As the film races to it conclusion the stakes become higher and what was once black and white becomes shades of grey. The finale had me sitting on the edge of the sofa and although I’d guessed one part of the ending its parlour trickery filled script had me wrong footed.

It’s got gusto and guts aplenty, especially for a part VI of a series, there is clearly more blood yet to be pumped from it. There’s no surprise that each section of this filmic puzzle is so deftly held together as it is helmed by the editor of Saw I – V, Kevin Greutert, whose work should be applauded and is certainly the series’ best instalment after the original.

Saw is still firmly the duracell battery of horror franchises. Krueger and Vorhees et al may have kept going and going (the less said about Pinhead the better) but all ran out of steam long before the films stopped being made, as long as these keep being inventive and reinventing itself long may Jigsaw continue playing his games and roll on Halloween 2010!


Pat’s Labyrinth III: The future of Horror

Fearful face off

In the final part of his exclusive interview with British horror film auteur, Pat Higgins, Dean Newman discusses the rise of low budget horror and what Higgins’ horrors await to be unleashed…

DN: Obviously low budget horror has been making the headlines this year with Paranormal Activity, Colin and even Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus…

PH: That last movie really breaks my heart as I have a deep love of giant octopus movies (there’s something you don’t hear everyday – Dean) since seeing Warlords of Atlantis when I was a little kid. For me though Mega Shark was real missed opportunity.

DN: What do you think is the audience appeal? Obviously the genre itself ebbs and flows but why do you think low budget horror has reared its head so triumphantly again this year?

PH: I know Marc Price, Director of the £45 budget zombie horror, Colin, and was lucky enough to see the film at the cast and crew screening prior to the media buzz. I always thought Colin was a remarkable movie as it was something that just hadn’t really been seen before and was a fresh, original take on a subject that people really liked.

Low budget movies can have a unique voice and I can’t imagine that a Studio would have got it. I could see them liking the idea of following a zombie but wanting some human characters in the mix as well.

The purpose of Colin is that it is just about a zombie and Marc really ran with that concept. You could also say the same for Paranormal Activity; I can’t imagine that that would have made it through an awful lot of focus groups where we end up watching a lot of static shots of two people sleeping. They’d probably look at it and think of ways of pepping things up. But of course the normality of it all is what helps suck people in.

I think that quite often when the Studios process such films they kill such choices as those, they like the idea of it but haven’t got the balls to follow through on it. Fair play to the audiences wanting to go on that journey with them and not have everything be spoon-fed or explained to them.

DN: It reminded me very much of the BBC’s Ghostwatch.

PH: I think that was just a wonderful piece of TV and that just came so far out of left field and it really seemed to upset people. I remember seeing that in a jittery room full of people who really bought into the whole experience.

Certainly that, Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch have really blurred the boundaries between what is implied as real and what isn’t.


Trilogy of terror

DN: What horrors is 2010 set to bring for you?

PH: We’ve got Bordello Death Tales, which is an anthology movie, which I contributed one story to. There are also stories directed by James Eaves who did Bane and The Witches Hammer, and Alan Ronald, who is regularly my Director of Photography but also made a wonderful little movie called Jesus Vs The Messiah.

I liked Trick ‘R’ Treat quite a lot but there hasn’t really been a good anthology movie since the likes of Creepshow. There have been quite a few separate short films knocking around that have been lumped together and called themselves an anthology but nothing really that was designed and written to be three stories with common threads but with their own unique voice. We’ve shared some locations and some actors, so it does have its own thread.

It’s a very old school interwoven anthology that really is a cool little movie and I’m sure it will do very well at lots of festivals.

In terms of development I’ve been working on a script for a movie called House on a Witch Pit that I keep coming back to and have been doing since about 2002. It’s just designed to scare people, that’s all it wants to do. I love that script so I don’t want to get it wrong and want to make sure that we get the right kind of budget to really do it justice.


Directors of Death: l-r Alan Ronald, Pat Higgins and James Eaves

DN: What advice would you give to any budding filmmakers or writers?

PH: The first thing I would say is don’t record important scenes onto a head-cleaning cassette, which is the voice of bitter experience (laughs). Other than that I’d say learning to shoot with what you’ve got rather than with what you’d like to have.

It’s solid advice from Robert Rodriquez and I wished I’d listened to it more on my first film where I thought I’m going to do this and that and in the end don’t think I took the full advantage of all the good things that I did have for free and was trying to overreach on other stuff.

In terms of writing though it is still the one place where we can really beat Hollywood and really can do stuff that they can’t do. They are always going to kick our arse in terms of special effects but in a way that can make it all the more creative.

The low budget gift and the ones who have really made the most of the medium are the ones who have made sure the script is perfect, we care about it and it comes from the heart before it goes in front of the camera. They’ve really taken that to heart and been a success as a result.

DN: As well as low budget horror being popular this year, so has 3D, is that something you are looking at getting involved in?

PH: I’ve started doing some poking around to see how feasible it would be on a low budget. I remember the 80s surge of 3D affectionately and it’s something I’d certainly like to dabble in. Never say never.

Pat might not be poised to make Avatar quite yet but even Cameron started off small with Piranha 2: Flying Killers and just look at where the newly Knighted Peter Jackson started out.