TOP 10 spookiest scenes in 2017 horror films (so far)

Hey guys, happy Friday the 13th!

Last year, to make a Friday the 13th special, I wrote a reflection upon the Jason Voorhees movies formula. I don’t really like that post anymore, thus I decided to swap tone this time around.

As a result, I came up with a list of the top 10 most frightening scenes that we’ve seen in 2017 horror movies. Unfortunately, I’m not easily scared by films, but these sequences were kind of impactful. Just to let you know, I didn’t take into consideration the ‘unsettling’ or ‘disturbing’ moments, otherwise I should have had to make a top-50 list…

10 She’s staring at you!Get Out. Chris, the lead character, is investigating on some creepy mystery revolving around his fiancé’s parents. As the good photographer he is, Chris picks up the camera to check on the family black maid when… boom! He frames her scarily staring back at him with empty eyes. This is a very impactful jump-scare that benefitted from the unsettling atmosphere created throughout the movie.

9 Jump-scare under the stairAnnabelle: Creation. Even though I’m not too keen on this sequel, when the cute Linda wonders around the creepy mansion the movie is set in, a loud noise in the dark makes the audience jump on their seats. The secret behind this well-executed jump-scare lies in its timing: Sandberg, the director, anticipated the moment and, therefore, the effect came unexpected and effective.

Dark Tapes8 Demon first apparition The Dark Tapes. This surprisingly good horror anthology finds a highly enthralling way to link four stories together: a fifth tale in which something is going downhill pretty fast for a bunch of paranormal investigators. The tension, built before the first segment started, turns the apparition of a hideous demon into a true nightmare when the storyline of the investigators is picked up again.

7 Rule #1: basements are not safe Cut Shoot Kill. This meta-slasher works perfectly as a psychological thriller, with no need for graphic sequences. That’s why, when the female lead ventures her way through a creepy basement, the discovery of a mutilated and tortured crew member (who, by the way, is still alive) gets under your skin and makes you startle quite a bit.

Killing-Ground- 36 She’s still alive! Killing Ground. Lately, Aussie movies are knocking it out of the park and this hunting game chiller is no exception. As a young couple camping by a lake discovers the remaining of a butchered family, the boyfriend nearly gets a stroke (and we did as well!) when he finds out a woman is still alive (barely…).

5 Rape attempt A Cure for Wellness. I love this movie, despite its last 20 minutes or so being completely and utterly absurd. However, towards the end Verbinski’s film betrays its tone and makes room for a rather scary scene that nobody saw coming, instead of keeping up with the mysterious and unsettling vibe developed throughout. I could have done without this sudden change of tone, but said sequence remains quite effective.

4 Pennywise and GeorgieIT. The opening scene sets the tone for you. Although this highly anticipated King’s adaptation isn’t properly scary, when the audience is introduced to Pennywise, the clown’s subtle creepiness makes us prepare for the worst, but his violent and gruesome assault to the little Georgie is something not easy to be forgotten.

EyesofMyMother_Trailer2.jpg3 Killer close-upThe Eyes of my Mother. Nicolas Pesce’s debut is a chiller that sticks with you for a long time. Awesome movie, if you ask me. One that doesn’t rely on tiresome horror tropes or conventional storytelling: however, when shit hits the fan, a nightmares-inducing close-up makes the viewer scream and, most importantly, the audience will constantly be thinking about the killer’s insane facial expression. Great stuff!

2 Krypt Creeper Gerald’s Game. Everything about the latest Mike Flanagan’s film is unsettling as hell. However, a specific character is, arguably, pure nightmare material: its abrupt, clear apparition on camera gives the audience a jump-scare for the ages, within a movie that otherwise refuses to rely on any horror cliché.

Evil-Within-6201 This would scare the devil The Evil Within. Unconventional to its core, this film utilises both horror tropes and original ways to frighten the audience. In a fully climactic grand finale, the movie ends with a bloodcurdling sequence in which one of they main characters attends a freak show. Out of the blue, a terrifying womanly creature appears on stage: the practical effects used to give it life are so well done that’s hard not to think it’s real. Which is why The Evil Within takes the cake as the film featuring the spookiest scene in 2017… so far!

Cheers!

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Saviours of the genre? A reflection upon horror cinema and its current, brightest filmmakers

Whoever has the tiniest interest in cinema would have noticed that the 2010s have seen the release of many interesting horror films.

After the prolonged drought of good Hollywood horror flicks in the early 2000s, many have finally grasped the endless opportunities offered by this chameleonic and polyhedral genre.

The search of innovation within horror cinema is, finally, experiencing a peak that, in my opinion, hasn’t been on the horizon (to the current extent) since the 80s. Eventually, production companies on one side, and audiences on the other are giving dignity to a genre which has been reduced to mindless entertainment for teenagers for a far too long time.

Sure, part of this ‘horror renaissance’ derives from the overall good quality of formulaic and conventional films and, as a result, we are witnessing a true outbreak of cinematic universes expansion. From a non-posh perspective, though, this is a quite positive feature: on one hand, films such as Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013) shaped mainstream tastes for the better; on the other, they tangentially made room for unconventional and brave indie horror that might become the classics of tomorrow.

Therefore, for this blog post I decided to focus on those promising filmmaker who, working mostly on horror flicks, are redefining the genre and providing us with worthy cinematic experiences. Since I dedicated to him an entire series of posts, you won’t find James Wan in the list, although his name was worth mentioning.

If you have any disagreement or think any other director should be on this list, please let me know in the comments section below. And do not get mad at me if your favourite newcomer filmmaker doesn’t appear on this post! Cheers!

Horror directors 1David F. Sandberg (Sweden, 21 January 1981) – the Swedish James Wan’s doppelganger has debuted with two box-office blasts: Lights Out (2016) and Annabelle: Creation (2017). These movies feature conventional plot and jump-scares, which, however, are executed in a mature and wise way. Characterised by beautiful cinematography and compelling protagonists, Sandberg’s flicks please mainstream audiences to a level only Wan has been able to reach. Although I’m not a big fun of his work, its impact on the genre is undeniable and Sandberg is giving viewers something they weren’t used to anymore: pure good quality entertainment.

Horror directors 2Sean Byrne (Australia, [sorry, his bio is untraceable]) – after his acclaimed debut (The Loved Ones, 2009), Sean Byrne’s Devil’s Candy (2017) sets itself as one of the surprises of 2017. This heavy-metal horror flick has confirmed the director’s talent and given us hope for his next steps in the horror industry. Featuring unusual storytelling and surreal imagery, Byrne’s films simultaneously shy away from being overly artsy or pretentious. Let’s see what other treat he’ll provide us with!

Evil Dead - 2013Fede Alvarez (Uruguay, 9 February 1978) – with the blessing of no one less than Sam Raimi, the Uruguayan director made his feature-length debut with the surprisingly good Evil Dead (2013), a reboot/reimagination of the classic The Evil Dead (1981). Three years later, Alvarez strengthened the respect he earned thanks to the horror/thriller Don’t Breathe (2016). The guy has proved to be highly chameleonic, being able to create two extremely intriguing films which rely on very different themes (gore for the first, suspense for the latter), while conveying emotions through well-written characters and utilising unconventional camera-work. Muy bueno!

horror directors 4Jordan Peele (USA, 21 February 1979) – I know, I know. The comedian/telly producer/actor has just made his directorial debut and, so far, he’s made only one movie. Still, this little movie is the most appreciated horror flick on RottenTomatoes since… well, ever! Get Out (2017) represents a nice, innovative take on the genre. Peele’s film is something rarely seen before: a combination between comedy (a lot), horror and social commentary. All of that is accompanied by great cinematography, astounding camera-work and excellent acting. If Peele decides to keep on making horrors, mainstream audiences are in good hands.

Horror directors 5.jpgAdam Wingard (USA, 3 December 1982) – with You’re Next (2011) and V/H/S 1 and 2 (2012-2013) he earned praises, whereas Blair Witch (2016) and Death Note brought him down to earth. Regardless, Adam Wingard is a make-or-break deal that’s giving small twists to the genre. Very eclectic and innovative, his direction ranges from one sub-genre to the other: from the slasher to the anthology to the horror/thriller to the paranormal. Especially the first two I just mentioned benefitted a lot from Wingard’s talent, who’s adding unpredictability to these sub-genres. Unfortunately, he seems to having abandoned the horror route in favour of summer blockbusters (he’s set to direct the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong film). Come on Adam, go back to your horror passion: money doesn’t buy happiness! Well, it does… I think.

Darren Aronofsky (USA, 12 February 1969) – here I’m cheating a bit, since Aronofsky didn’t direct only horror flicks. However, his inclusion on this list is due to my unconditional love for the guy as a filmmaker and, more importantly, all the horror/disturbing elements included in his films. If we all close our eyes and pretend Noah (2014) never happened, we’ll realise that Aronofsky can’t make anything bad. Whatever he puts his hands on, turns into cinematic gold.

horror directors 6.pngRequiem for a Dream (2000), a surreal and disturbing journey within drugs and compelling addicts, and Black Swan (2010), an outstanding psychological horror about the ballet world, give me hope for Aronofsky’s upcoming Mother! This is, most likely, a horror drama on the trail of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – it could even be a reimagination of Polanski’s masterpiece – which has the potential to be excellent. In general, Aronofsky always delivers uneasiness through its movies, being able to add a surreal touch to them while, simultaneously, avoiding the artsy-fartsy, pretentious route. I might be wrong (or you might disagree with me), but I consider Aronofsky’s work a constant journey in the real-life horror, that one connected to our fear of drugs or unhealthy obsessions. Which means that if you’re a mama boy (like myself… ops!), Mother! would likely change your perspective!

Mike Flanagan (USA, 20 May 1978) – from a guy born in the wicked town of Salem, Massachusetts, becoming a horror director seem a natural route. All jokes apart, Flanagan is a sort of miracle man: after his 2011 debut (Absentia) received a quite cold welcome, Oculus (2013) knocked it out of the park, but was clouded by some foreign horror masterpieces that came out the same year nonetheless.

horror directors 7Both his first feature-length films revolve around the supernatural element. However, Flanagan utilises demons and ghosts to tell human stories and dig into his characters’ feelings and emotions. Yet, he plays with the audience’s expectations by creating the set-up for jump-scares and then avoiding them, whilst making us frightened in much subtler ways.

Nevertheless, I named him ‘miracle man’ since he’s been able to direct a script based on a board game and turning it into something highly watchable: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) is a fairly enjoyable horror movie, much deeper than the story itself deserves. Also, in comparison to its predecessor Ouija (2014) – a shameless cash-grabbing train-wreck – Flanagan’s sequel looks like a masterpiece. Clever and competent, Flanagan will likely deliver other great films to both mainstream and underground audiences in the future. I challenge you Mike, your next film should be a found-footage about alien abduction: let’s see if you can turn that into a quality product!

horror directors 8Nicolas Pesce (USA, 18 January 1990) – the golden kid has nailed it with his first and – so far – only feature-length film: The Eyes of my Mother (2017) is perhaps no masterpiece, but will certainly develop a cult following. This black-and-white artsy horror/drama is almost flawless and the young director behind it handled story, cinematography and characters in such a unique, mesmerising way. Hired to direct the next Grudge film, I can only hope the production company behind the project will give Pesce as much freedom as possible, so that the guy could make his unconventional touch emerge in a Hollywood film. Make it black-and-white, Nick!

The Spierig Brothers (Australia, 29 April 1976) – did I save the best for last? I don’t know, it’s up to you to decide. In my opinion, the Aussie twins are among the best horror filmmakers working today. Their debut was the extremely underrated Undead (2003), a low-budget alien-zombie horror comedy – yes, I’m serious – which provided quite some gore, laughter and great entertainment.

However, it’s with Daybreakers (2009) that I fell in love with Peter and Michael Spierig: I talked about that film in my underrated movies series, so I won’t come back to it again, for the moment. Let me just say that their attempt to a non-horror flick (Predestination, 2014) is probably the best sci-fi film of the 2000s, at least in my opinion.

horror directors 9.jpgThe Aussie directors will make their Hollywood debut with Jigsaw (27 October 2017), the eight chapter of the Saw franchise which will have the hard task of reinvigorating a storyline that has been messed up throughout the years to the point of becoming tiresome and barely watchable. Also, in 2018 they will release Winchester, a supernatural horror drama that sounds really promising.

All in all, the Spierig Brothers are excellent at crossing genres and unconventional plots, which is what I really like about them. If with Jigsaw I’m a bit sceptical (for the first time in their career they didn’t write the script), Winchester is already one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. I honestly don’t think they will ever make any bull dust!

I know this post is already long enough, I apologise for that, I just want to add that the topic of this list is, obviously, the directors. In the 2000s there have been single movies worth watching and praising; nevertheless, these films came, mostly, from out of Hollywood: UK, France, Japan, Australia and Korea gave us many amazing flicks. However, here I decided to focus on those directors who might change the Hollywoodian attitude towards horror cinema, making mainstream films you can actually care for, instead of just wasting your money with. I hope you’ll like it, cheers!

The Dark Avengers recruit another member. Annabelle: Creation – movie review

After watching Annabelle (2014) I had little anticipation for this prequel that fits in The Conjuring universe and revolves around a possessed doll.

However, the direction by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, 2016) and, mostly, an astounding 69% on RottenTomatoes, got me curious and slightly less negative about Annabelle: Creation.

What’s my opinion on it, then?

First, the plot: a group of orphan girls move to the house of Samuel Mullins and his wife, Esther, who, 12 years prior, have lost their beloved daughter Annabelle – killed in a hit and run accident.

Annabelle Creation 2When one of the girls, Janice, a young orphan who suffers from polio, sneaks into a locked room, she finds a creepy doll, unwittingly releasing the demon who begins to terrorise the girls, with a special interest in Janice.

The film is set in the 50s, in an isolated house a few miles away from a small Americana town. Compared to the first Annabelle film, Creation smartly chooses a location and an environment highly suitable for a haunted story.

Furthermore, Sandberg had the clever idea to untie its movie from the awful Annabelle, going for a prequel that guaranteed him more freedom rather than continuing with the ridiculous storyline of the 2014 flick.

Annabelle Creation 1Although driven by young actors, the performances in Creation are compelling overall: Talitha Bateman (Janice) and her best friend Linda (well portrayed by Lulu Wilson) are amazing in their roles. Yet, Sandberg decides to switch the lead between the two girls, making for a fresh storytelling in an otherwise formulaic horror flick.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re looking for the same, comforting bad acting that characterises the majority of horror flicks: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins) drags himself around with the same facial expression he had while he was looking for missing people in 160 episodes of Without a Trace.

Besides some excellent performance, nice locations and good camera-work, Annabelle: Creation is as dull as Anthony LaPaglia in his role.

Without spoiling anything, this film doesn’t even have a plot twist: it’s predictable, the jump-scares are obvious (only one, in a staircase scene, got me) and the characters do what you expect them to.

Annabelle Creation 3Yet, Creation tries too hard to fit within The Conjuring universe and, simultaneously, to recreate Insidious (2010). The demon’s victims are all female (alike in The Conjuring), the jump-scares come from loud noises and hideous faces (Insidious), the prevalent colours are different shades of grey (The Conjuring) and the demon is the spit image of Lipstick-Face from Insidious.

The doll is just thrown in the mix, because, let’s be frank, the production company wants to fill up The Conjuring universe with spin-offs about the evil spirits that featured in the two Conjuring movie.

There is even a hint to the Nun in a scene of Creation. I expect Warner Brothers to come up with a Dark Avengers movie in a few years, featuring Annabelle, The Nun and The Crooked Man!

In conclusion, Annabelle: Creation is a massive improvement upon Annabelle. Although even a feature-length film about a dog pooping in the streets would be a better movie than Annabelle.

At the same time, though, Creation falls into all the stereotypical horror clichés we’ve seen tons of times before. It’s an enjoyable film based on a silly premise and unimaginative storytelling that, at the end, leaves you with nothing more than one hour and fifty minutes of mindless entertainment. Cheers!

Annabelle (2014) – movie review

Whit Annabelle coming out soon (the release date in the UK is the 11th of August), I decided to make a step back to the first spinoff of this horror franchise linked to The Conjuring universe.

If you previously read some of my older posts, you might have noticed that Annabelle is mentioned quite a few times in them.

Mostly, I used it as a titular example of soulless flick made on a small budget with the only purpose of milking money out of moviegoers’ pockets – which I talked about in-depth in regards to The Conjuring cinematic universe.

Therefore, I hope you’ll sympathise with me for having made the excruciating effort of sitting through this atrocity against humanity… for the second time.

Annabelle tells the absolutely unneeded and uninteresting story of a possessed doll that, after being cursed by a cultist, haunts the house and lives of John and Mia Form, a newly married couple living in California in the 60s/70s (presumably…).

Annabelle 1Mia is pregnant and, due to her insane passion for creepy-ass dolls, fills the room of her upcoming daughter with these hideous puppets. John, despite being short in money, decides to buy her Annabelle which costs him two months’ worth of rent, ignoring its horrendous appearance and the fact that it would scare every kid in the world to death.

When two cultists (a man and his daughter) break into their house to kill the lovely couple for some unexplained reason, they curse the doll which seems to embody either a demon or the vindictive spirit of the woman. Or both. Who cares?

After witnessing weird paranormal phenomena that jeopardise Mia and her new-born daughter (Leah), the wife decides to throw the doll in the bin and move away, which her husband reluctantly agrees on – despite being stereotypically sceptical and for no reasons unaware of what’s happening.

Anyway, they move to a humongous flat, although not having enough money to pay both bills and buy a hideous doll. However, Annabelle comes back due to her superdoll powers and keeps haunting them until a pointless sacrifice saves the family in one of the most disappointing ending I have ever seen.

Directed by John R. Leonetti, who previously made Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2 (two of the worst movies ever made), Annabelle is deemed to be awful.

The concept it’s based on is laughable to begin with: another killer-doll movie is as about necessary as one revolving around a board game (knock Ouija door for confirmation).  

Annabelle 2Nevertheless, the execution is even worse: this film feels like an endless stream of exposition scenes, filled with boring dialogue between characters as compelling as a potato.

From time to time, jump-scares are thrown in the mix and they look cheap, unfrightening and, overall, silly. Other than a fairly good one, which makes for 10 seconds of watchable stuff out of 96 minutes.

The rest is just generic: the soundtrack, the cinematography, the editing… all of that is made up in the attempt to create some scary moments that will never come.

Sub-plots are thrown in a sequence and never explored again; characters make a statement and retract it in the very next scene; the husband always has to go to (or stay at) work because the director doesn’t know what to do with him.

Furthermore, in this flick universe, there is no space for other human beings than the characters directly involved in the story: streets are empty in broad daylight, buildings look always uninhabited, shops are deserted.

This is Annabelle guys, a shameless attempt to rip off better films and a soulless money-grabbing train wreck that is about as scary as a Smurfs episode. Don’t watch it, ever!

To conclude, I just want to clarify that I decided to review this movie because, despite all the premises, I’m really curious to see Annabelle: Creation for two main reasons.

Firstly, the director openly despised the first Annabelle as a terrible film. Secondly, he proved himself capable of decent filmmaking with Lights Out (2016) and, mostly, a few seriously creepy short movies. Let’s hope Creation will make us forget about its predecessor. Cheers!

The Conjuring Universe and on the ‘universising’ phenomenon

James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) has been highly appreciated by both critics and general audiences, something quite rare nowadays.

Followed by its likewise good sequel (2016), The Conjuring has set Wan among the best horror directors of all time – as if Saw (2004) wasn’t enough of a prove of the filmmaker’s talent.

The two films about Ed and Lorrain Warren (paranormal investigators active, for real, in the 50s and 60s in the US) have grossed an overall profit of 578.3 million of dollars (!), turning them into two of the most profitable movies in cinema history.

Conjuring universe 3It was inevitable that production companies would have started a race to earn the rights for sequels, spin-offs and so on. The Warner Bros. Pictures has, so, gave the authorisation for Annabelle (2014), its sequel Annabelle: Creation (August, 11th 2017), The Nun (2018), The Crooked Man (TBA) and The Conjuring 3 (TBA) to be produced and released.

Obviously, Annabelle, the movie, played a crucial role in this trend, since it grossed over $256 million against its $6.5 million production budget. Although, contrarily to The Conjuring films, nearly none who’s seen it thought it was a decent movie.

conjuring-cinematic-universePanned by critics and regular moviegoers, Annabelle is the archetype of production companies’ philosophy: they don’t care about providing people with quality cinema, they just crave for their money. Why would anyone appreciate the trite and tiresome attempt to a movie based on a coursed puppet and filled with horror clichés?

But, at the same time, why people went happily and jauntily to the cinemas just to be let down, big time? The answer is rather simple: audiences expected the same stuff they’ve been struck by in The Conjuring, even though Annabelle had a different director and, mostly, a pointless (if not entirely non-existent) plot, let alone a story-line.

Again, production companies don’t care what food they feed up audiences with. They just want to milk more money out of their pockets, with the minimum effort, when that’s possible.

The side effect of this trend – other than unsatisfying moviegoers and giving them loads of mediocre films – is even scarier. Indeed, for production companies is much easier and safer to connect poor quality products to better and more successful ones, linking them to the same world. In other words, it’s much less risky to fill up a pre-existent universe than trying un-walked (and, therefore, original) patterns.

Conjuring universe 1Hopefully I’m totally wrong and I’ll be retracting my statements by then, but I’ve got the strong belief that The Nun and The Crooked Man will be absolute flops. The latter, in particular, picks up the worst character of the entire Conjuring Universe, a monster created purely out of CGI that inspired more laughs than frights.

Similarly, The Conjuring 3 will likely retrace the footprints of its predecessors. Which means it’s very susceptible to be boring and uninteresting.

That of ‘universising’ or ‘universisation’, up to you (I don’t mean to show off by creating new words, so sorry in advance if I sound posh), is an ongoing threat for contemporary cinema, which just happened to affect the horror genre lately.

Indeed, this trend kicked off already with the Marvel and DC Universe (Avengers and siblings, Justice League and company) and Universal’s Dark Universe (Dracula Untold and The Mummy).

It’s successful because it’s economically rewarding. Nothing more, nothing less. For instance, Universal’s Dark Universe has been largely deemed as laughable, whereas the DC Universe has gathered mixed reactions.

Conjuring universe 4The Marvel Universe appears to be the only one unanimously perceived as good. However, if you stop for one second and think about it, all the Marvel films have the  same storytelling, execution and ending – with a few honourable exceptions (Deadpool, Guardian of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), this cinematic universe is, basically, a giant scheme that repeats itself over and over again. Movie after movie, seamlessly.

In regards to the horror genre, this trend tends to be more even more dangerous, since it affects a specific cinema branch, the quality of which is already put in peril by the endless series of soulless remakes and reboots.

Conjuring universe 5.gifThe implicit risk of creating a horror universe filled with unappealing and mediocre films is that quality flicks – which might benefit from smaller anticipations and, therefore, less advertising – will be liable to fly under the radars. This is already happening: great independent films such as The Eyes of my Mother and The Evil Within are being outrageously overlooked by mass audiences, who are just waiting for Annabelle: Creation and Insidious 4 to come out.

I want to make clear that I don’t blame James Wan, even in the slightest, for this disease (yes, that’s what I call it). If anything, Wan, with his immense talent has strengthened, throughout the years, the mainstream horror cinema thanks to his most famous motion pictures.

Unfortunately, though, his films have unintentionally pushed production companies to exploit said success in the easiest way possible, instead of taking them as an inspiration to revitalise on a large scale a genre that have seen a shortage of quality products in the 2000s – in addition, the few recent great horror movies often came from ‘abroad’ (i.e. not from the United States and Hollywood).

I know this post might seem a rent against mainstream production companies and, thus, mainstream horror cinema. Instead, I hope it may serve as food for thoughts for horror (and cinema) maniacs, like me, who want to sit through fulfilling experiences rather than disposable entertainment. Cheers!