A day (or a few) in the haunting of the Lambert family vs. the never-ending :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Night Horror Movies :: Insidious Chapter 2 (2013) and The Monkey’s Paw (2013)

Well, it’s been awhile readers, since we held a Saturday Night Horror Movie Double Feature evening, so to kick the year off with what we hope to have as a twice monthly night and next day review, we chose two rather recent movies: one a sequel from a favorite horror writer/director of mine, and the other,  a “made for cable” re-telling of the short story/parable touting the proverbial “be careful what you wish for” warning.

Our first film choice was a rollicking, jump-scare filled fun follow-up (ending?) over-flowing with homages to the horror movie in general. Horror sequels (and so on) are often a staple to the genre, with countless scary movie franchises, enough to fill an entire year of double feature choices. That said, the making of a good “next chapter” is not a given, and more often than not the second (or third, or fourth) feel like they are “trying to hard” to keep up the momentum of their predecessors. With that in mind, we hit the play button and waited to see how this “what happens next” would play out.

The second half of our double-feature would have been better suited as an episode of an anthology series, or a third story in a trilogy of cautionary tales. On its own it felt overwhelmingly long and drawn out, becoming a chore to get through. Because the story is well-known enough that the viewer knew that “no good would come of this” it did not require the slow unfolding of plot. Instead, we came to choose this one hoping for a new take on an old story. Much like “Monkey Paw” wishes, not every choice is a good choice.

Onward we go, and I hope that you enjoy the choices and reviews that follow. As always, please share your own thoughts about the films if you have seen them yourself. We love horror film recommendations, too, so feel free to drop a request for our next double feature horror night coming soon, either in the comment section, or to me directly – Laura at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

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Insidious Chapter 2 (2013)
Directed by James Was and written by Leigh Whannell and James Wan

James Wan’s horror film’s are favorites of mine due to his inspired use of music and lighting, his nods to past horror films, as well as his sometimes quiet slow build of a story that usually involves human frailty and connection with family, love, fears and flaws. Losing a child, or having a child lost within illness, is a parents’ worse fear, especially when said parents feel that they cannot help, or control any of the circumstances. When we first met the Lambert family we met a not so perfect family, one with their own challenges and tensions, especially for wife and mother Renai, a songwriter who with her family have just moved into a new home not so long after the birth of their youngest daughter. We see the strain that change has on the family, but also sense a connection between that transcends the stress in a way that sets you off believing that this family is strong and resilient.

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I would say that we would not guess how strong and resilient they will need to be, but come on, these are horror films and we know that peril and, well, horror lie in wait for them in the not so distant future. We watch the terror and devastation that happen when their young son, Dalton, is haunted and then subsequently taken by a yet unknown entity. As the story unfolds we find out that this is not a house haunting as we come to expect with scary family plots, but a family haunting with a generational legacy that was “erased” from the father and husband, Josh, when he was young, and hauntingly afflicted. We all have skeletons in our family closet, but these skeletons are part of a portal to a kind of purgatory where the evil “others” are ripe for living vessels to shadow, and take over.

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I liked the first film quite a bit, despite a few questions it raised, and background story I wished to know more about. Perhaps that is part of what makes this sequel so enjoyable in that some of those questions, and backgrounds, are answered and explained.

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The last thing we saw of the Lambert’s, Josh had been able to bring their son back from the other side with the help of Elise, who can speak/communicate/see the dead. Some of it was reminiscent of the ending of Poltergeist, when the mother in that scenario entered the other realm to bring back their daughter, with the help of another speaker/seer/dead communicator woman. Elise does not survive though, and Josh, we see that he may have not come back alone, as the last shot is of a horrific looking old woman from the not so sweet hereafter. Was she a “ghostly hitchhiker” catching a ride with Josh, or has she possessed Josh completely? Or, as we come to find out, is it even the woman at all within Josh, or someone/something else?

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The defining difference between Chapter 2 and the first story is pace. This is not a slow reveal. Instead, this is a fast-moving tale fraught with what my family likes to call “jump scares“. There were moments where I my heart was leaping into my throat over and over again, so much so that I had to hit pause to catch my breath. Music is hugely impactful, helping to keep the chills on the surface of my skin, and my body poised nervously at the edge of my seat.

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Besides the scares, we are gifted some back-story, and some now-story with Grandmother Lorraine, and ghost-hunters Specs and Hunter, who I thoroughly enjoyed (especially Specs). They take up the cause where Elise was prematurely taken from. They dig up the VHS tapes that Elise recorded back when she first met a younger Lorraine and Josh, and enlist the help of Carl, who was there with Elise back in the day. Elise still acts as leader even from the grave, and it is this posse’s search and discovery that I think stole the movie.

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I do wish we learned a bit more about the legacy, especially a deeper look into Lorraine herself who we learn is able to see the dead, as well. I also wish that the “big bad” had a more flushed out history. What I do think was done spectacularly is the seemless tying together of Chapter 2 into actual scenes and scenarios from the first film. I do not want to spoil anything, but when you get there, you will know. I love when a series rewards the viewer for being there from the start, and these moments felt like that to me in the best way.

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Will there be a Chapter 3? I see where there is possibility, even for a Prequel, but with James Wan’s publicly announcing his retirement from horror (please don’t let it be true) that may just live in the land of fan-fiction and fantasy. We will just have to wait and see if we have seen the last of the Lambert family.

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Thoughts from my husband:

“What I liked best about the film was the director’s skill at utilizing music to foreshadow away the coming scares, but to enhance the scare as it is happening. So many films use music in a way that gives away what’s coming, but Wan uses music right when it is happening, making it all that more powerful. I also liked the tying in of loose threads not only from the movie we were watching (Chapter 2), but its predecessor. All in all, I was pretty much happy with this sequel.”

A few fun facts:

During the scene in which Specs and Tucker analyze the footage of young Josh, The Panasonic VCR logo has been worn away in places so that it reads ‘Panic’ instead.

When Specs and Tucker enter Elise’s house, there is an African Tribal painting hanging on the wall. It is the same painting seen hanging in Daniel’s study in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) and in the Grandmother’s house in Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – More rewards to frequent horror movie fans/viewers.

A majority of the film was shot inside Linda Vista Community Hospital, which also doubles as the abandoned hospital that the characters visit.

There is a cameo shot of James Wan  on a computer wallpaper with Specs and Tucker.

Notable horror movie homages: 

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Psycho: The character of Parker is written with many parallels with Norman Bates, including a scene in a shower, and, well, “Mother issues“.

The Shining: Josh’s downward spiral closely resembles that of Jack Torrance.

Sleepaway Camp: The flashback with young Parker and his mother is nearly identical to a scene in Sleepaway Camp.

Carnival of Souls: The 1962 film version is shown playing on television.

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Something’s Wrong

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The Monkey’s Paw (2013)

Based on the well-known horror short story by William Wymark Jacobs that includes the infamous “three wishes” set-up with the inevitable “be careful what you wish for” moral of the story, this film brought out by Chiller (cable horror network) attempts to give us a new spin to the age old tale. Unfortunately, they do a poor job of adapting the short story to a long-playing film, making the long in “long-playing” the key component to a movie that feels like it will never end, and not in a good way.

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We all know the story of three wishes, and maybe that is where the trouble starts. Knowing the set-up and the cautionary tale makes it a challenge to find ways to shock and engage the audience, but horror in general is full of well-known tropes and there are many examples of how this can be down in fresh and startling ways. This is not one of those examples.

At the start of the film I had hopes that they could pull it off. We see a sneak peek of a young boy kneeling beside his beaten and bloody, and seemingly dying, Father who hands him the magical paw passing on his warning about wishing for things. We then fast-forward to a garage full of co-workers, one that we assume is the young boy grown-up, and watch how the players and pieces start to fall in place. The predictable “good looking” young lead has a terminally ill Mother, an unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend, and a douche-bag boss, right there we already see the potential “three wishes” right? But, at the start, they turn some of those expectations around, finding the young man off at a bar with his drunken, quick-witted, older, jaded co-worker, Tony Cobb, who gets taken on a ride of wishes, and wish-envy, that at first plays unexpected, and then goes somewhere that just never works for me.

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I actually found myself wanting to pause the movie and check how much more time remained multiple times during the movie, frustrated and exhausted with poor writing and execution. Once the two main characters, Cobb and young Jake, leave the bar it is all downhill. There is poor motivation on everyone’s parts, ridiculous mistakes made, and know authentic feeling choices or characterizations ever made. Even the one strong character, Cobb, is ruined after leaving the bar. Honestly, my over-arching feeling with this one is “please be over soon“.

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There is no continuity, no follow-through of motivation or choice, and every plot point is so muddied by bad writing and too long of film time that nothing even makes sense after awhile. The movie went past of place of irritation, to confusion, to not caring at all anymore except to wanting to use my own “three wishes” to make it all end already.

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I do not want to ruin the plot further (plot? was there one?, but I also want to make certain that I do not recommend this one, at all. At best, this should have been part of an anthology series or movie, at worst, it maybe should never been made.

Thoughts from my husband:

Here is the problem, I respect Chiller’s attempt to put out a box-office type movie. It stands to reason that in order to have original films on your network you have to create some yourself, the problem being, in an effort to save money it seems that they took a short story that was available in the public domain and asked ‘Bob in accounting’ to update it. This in the past has always been a great 20-40 minute anthology episode type tale, not a 92 minute film made in time specifically to slide in-between commercials.”

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