Friday, August 9, 2013

Worth Mentioning - @CreepyPuppet

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

James Wan conjures up a couple films for Cody's entertainment.


Given that director James Wan featured a tricycle-riding puppet called Billy in his breakout film Saw, followed that up with a ghost story that featured a hundred ventriloquist dummies (Dead Silence), and uses the handle Creepy Puppet on Twitter, it should come as no surprise to those familiar with his work that he begins his latest film with a sequence centered on a haunted doll.

This doll seems to move from room to room of an apartment by itself, scaring the girls who live there. The girls believe the doll is inhabited by the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle, but after bringing in paranormal investigators/married couple Ed and Lorraine Warren to check out their problem, they find that this is actually a case of demonic manipulation. The Warrens call for a priest to cleanse the apartment and take the doll to be kept in a secure location - actually a storage room in their own home.

The Warrens were real paranormal investigators who operated for many years, starting in the 1960s. Ed was a Demonologist, Lorraine a gifted clairvoyant. The most famous case they ever took on was to look into the Amityville hauntings. The screenplay for The Conjuring, written by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (who once had a very intriguing remake of The Blob in development) is based on one of their actual case files, one said to be so malevolent that the Warrens felt it had to be locked away... Until now...

The case the film focuses on begins with the Perron family - long haul truck driver Roger, housewife Carolyn, and their five daughters - moving into a nice, large house in a great, quiet location in the Rhode Island countryside. Aside from the moody teenager, they seem to be excited about starting a new chapter in their lives.

Very soon, there are strange things happening to and around the Perrons... They discover that the house had a cellar that was boarded up. Their dog dies. Carolyn wakes up with bruises on various parts of her body. There are weird odors. Birds break their necks flying into the side of the house. Doors bang, pictures fall. The youngest daughter sees a little boy standing behind her in a music box mirror... Before long, ghostly figures are appearing in the shadows, invisible forces are pulling the girls out of bed and tossing them across rooms...

The Perrons call in the Warrens, and the investigators unearth the home's dark history of Satanism and witchcraft, sacrifice and suicide. The evil dwelling in the house has horrible plans for the Perrons and could be very dangerous for everyone involved with this situation. Unless the Warrens can find a way to stop it.

I'm not generally a fan of haunted house tales, but Wan and the Hayes brothers cooked up some really good sequences of tension, suspense, and scares for their film. The interior of the house was shot inside a two-story set built on a soundstage, allowing Wan to move the camera throughout however he wanted to to make the jumps more effective.

The movie is well written, well directed, it looks terrific, but what really makes it work as well as it does is the cast. All of the actors are great, some of them are among my personal favorites - Lili Taylor as Carolyn, Ron Livingston as Roger, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine. Wilson and Farmiga in particular are fantastic in their roles. They have signed on to appear in a sequel that will cover another of the Warrens' cases, and I'm definitely up for watching them go up against more ghosts and demons.

Thanks to drive-in double features, I have seen The Conjuring shown on screens under the stars twice. The first time I saw it, it was paired with Pacific Rim, the second time it came after The Wolverine. I enjoyed it quite a bit both times.

One dialogue exchange between Ed and Lorraine stood out to me and has taken on extra meaning as something my girlfriend and I say to each other -

Ed: I can't lose you.

Lorraine: You won't. Let's finish this together.

SAW (2004)

Director James Wan and his friend/co-writer/star Leigh Whannell were just starting out when they landed a million dollar budget to turn their script entitled Saw into a feature film. The idea for the story had occurred to them when they were trying to come up with something that they could make cheaply and figured that it doesn't get much cheaper than a story that would be centered on two men trapped inside a room.

Those two characters are Doctor Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and a young photographer named Adam (Leigh Whannell), who wake up to find themselves in a filthy underground restroom, Gordon with his right ankle chained to pipes on one side of the room, Adam with his left ankle chained to pipes on the other side. Between them lies the body of a man who has committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

After listening to mini cassette tapes found in their pockets, Adam and Gordon realize that they are the latest victims of someone called The Jigsaw Killer, who captures people and forces them to play deadly "games". Each victim is given a certain amount of time to perform usually torturous tasks in attempt to free themselves before time runs out. Their efforts to escape might even kill them, but if they don't complete them before the time limit is reached, they die for sure.

The option Adam and Gordon are given to escape from their shackles: cut through their own feet with hacksaws they've been provided with.

Other victims we're shown in flashbacks included a man who attempted suicide by cutting his wrists being forced to crawl through razor wire, a poisoned man whose body was smeared with a flammable substance having to use a candle to search for the combination of a safe that has an antidote locked inside of it, and a drug addict (played by Shawnee Smith, a childhood favorite of mine from her roles in Summer School, the 1988 Blob remake, and Stephen King's The Stand) who had a reverse bear trap wired to her jaws. She was made to cut a key out of a drugged man's stomach to unlock the trap, and was the only one to survive a game... And she had a peculiar reaction to being put through it. Of Jigsaw she says, "He helped me."

Adam and Gordon are not in such a grateful mood, and as they struggle throughout the film to figure out how to get out of their situation with their lives and feet intact, a broader story is told around their ordeal; flashbacks reveal what sort of people they really are and what ties bind them together, and there are cutaways to other locations where more characters are going through problems of their own.

There's Danny Glover as the detective who was working on the Jigsaw case until it ruined his life and career. He now obsesses over tracking Jigsaw down, and he's pretty sure that Gordon is the master manipulator behind all these deaths. Also, Gordon is given extra incentive to get out of the dirty restroom by the fact that his wife and daughter (Monica Potter and Makenzie Vega) are being held at gunpoint by Lost's Michael Emerson as a very creepy weirdo named Zepp.

The Saw franchise got so overblown over the years that it's easy to lose sight of what humble beginnings it had. When you put aside everything that followed and just take the first film on its own, it still stands up as a good, dark, stylish, Seven-esque killer thriller with an effective, simple core scenario surrounded by an intriguing mystery and clever ideas. There are some really creepy sequences in it that feature nightmarish images like a tricycle-riding dummy, a man lurking in a little girl's closet, someone in a pig mask crawling on the floor of a parking garage...

Saw's Sundance screening in January of 2004 drew a lot of attention, and by the time Lionsgate released it in theatres that October, it had a lot of hype surrounding it. It was being touted as a must see for horror fans, and since I missed a special early screening of it at a horror marathon, I was there for its opening the following weekend. I wasn't blown away, but I enjoyed it, as I do today. There were already rumblings that a sequel was on the way that weekend, but I wasn't sure about that. It was a good standalone film, I didn't think a sequel was necessarily a good idea... Obviously, all of the money that Lionsgate made off of the sequels over the following years and the extremely dedicated fanbase that the films earned say that I was wrong about that.

No comments:

Post a Comment